The castle doors were wide open, as they had been yesterday. Finch entered, and he wondered if Chloe would actually be there. He had told her that he wasn’t available today, so she might be out doing something else.
Finch figured he would find her in the library but when he got there, it was locked and no one answered his knocks. He sighed, and looked around, up and down the hall. It seemed that all the doors had small labels. This door had the words, “My Library,” etched into a rectangular plate made of a dark wood. The writing was very pretty, as if the woodworker that had carved it was also trained in calligraphy.
Finch wasn’t an artist, but the dark wood seemed to go well with the stone and wood doors that lined the wall. Finch continued ahead to the next door. It read, “Chloe’s” followed by a star. It was also written in the same calligraphic style as the library’s tag.
Finch knocked, and waited. Nothing. He then tried the handle. To his immense surprise, it turned, and with little effort the door swung open. Finch peered inside nervously.
Chloe’s room was only a little larger than his own. Finch found this surprising. He expected a prince to have something much larger. The window was a little nicer than the one in the library. Instead of looking as if it was made from colourful pieces of broken glass glued together with metal, this one had a little more direction to it. It was an orange square inside a yellow one, all bordered in pink.
A dim colourful glow emanated from the glass. Chloe’s bed was on the left, with a dresser at its foot, and on the right was a giant dark hardwood desk. It was a beautiful deep brown, and had two lamps on it. In fact, Finch noticed a lot of lamps. One near the bed, sharing a small bed stand with a pile of books, the ones on the desk, and even standing one in the corner to his left, next to a small mirror. It seemed that the oil in the ceiling lamp was gone, perhaps it had never been filled. Finch took a quick peek behind the door, where very predictably there stood a tall bookshelf.
Finch, feeling quite like an invader by now, stepped back and closed the door. He moved on, wondering how Chloe hadn’t burned the place down with all those lamps.
“Although,” he said to himself, “The castle is mostly stone bricks…”
The next door was unusually tall. It had a word etched somewhat more crudely in the plate which seemed to be in another alphabet. It was followed by, “and Gwenhime.” This must be the King’s room. Finch didn’t touch the knob, instead he kept walking and reading. The next one read, “Natasha.”
Natasha! He thought. That was the guard Captain he had been looking for the other day!
Finch knocked, but predictably there was no answer.
He continued, reading names. It seemed that only Chloe’s looked really nice. Next up was, “Kain,” and then, “Crystal Jealousy.” Finch thought that to be a really strange name. He turned the corner, having run out of rooms on the south wall. When he rounded, he saw that the first door on the east wall was ajar.
The door read, “Janna.” From inside he could hear the voice of a woman.
She said, “Really, we don’t need to tell my father anything unless he plans to make a move against Venus.”
And then she sighed very loudly.
Finch walked past the door, and glimpsed inside. He saw someone who reminded him of an older, more pointy Chloe. Her hair was shorter too, her face a little smaller. Around her legs and shoulders she wore a dark grey jumpsuit, similar to the light grey one that guards wore. She had it unzipped all the way down. She wasn’t wearing much underneath. Her torso was curtained by the unzipped suit so that, while she was very revealing, nothing was actually revealed. This woman also looked quite powerful. She had a compact set of abdominal muscles and, as he pulled his eyes away from her midriff finally, he saw that she also had very lean, stiff looking arms. A tanned, dark-haired man was with her too, leaning on the wall and looking away.
This woman had the same deep brown eyes as Chloe too. The only reason Finch could tell was because they were looking at him. He had expected the woman to slam the door in his face, but instead she just smiled. It seemed that this woman was not ashamed of herself.
“Hey, keep an eye on girls your own age kid.” She said, and then laughed at him.
The man grunted along with her, but Finch just kept walking, his face becoming hot, which made her laugh even more as he walked out of sight.
What a strange place this was. Was that woman Janna? Was she Chloe’s sister? In order to stop thinking of her, Finch went back to reading doors.
“Uhh, this one is…” He cleared his mind, “It’s…”
But he couldn’t read it. It seemed to have a “Z” and a few other tall letters in it. The name had been entirely gouged out though, and it seemed to Finch that it hadn’t been done with real woodworking tools. He looked back at the slightly opened door he had just passed and wondered if it was Janna that had ruined this tag.
“And, uh, over here is… brooms.”
Finch frowned. It looked like this family wasn’t all that big. He thought back, counting on his fingers. Chloe, Natasha, Kain, Crystal, Janna, and the mystery name. That was six, which was pretty large.
Finch knew from his Natural Studies books that even two or three children was considered a large amount. It was very hard to have children, it seemed. Something about unusually large brains compared to other creatures. It was even harder before the Servant of Birth was around to help the process and prevent stillborn infants.
Before Finch could think further about dead children, someone came out of the room at the end of the hall on his left.
“And who is this? A youth lurking about on the second floor? Surely you must know that citizens are to remain on the first and base floors?”
It was a tall man with finger-length wavy blonde hair. He also wore a guard’s uniform that had a fancier looking ribbon on it than normal. This man was of a higher rank.
“I’m looking for Chloe!” Finch said.
“Oh? She’s in the library. Not her library, the castle library,” The man said, “But who are you anyway?”
“I’m Finch Dirge Zeth!” He replied.
“Ah yes. I am Vinth Axxiss. It’s a Solussa last name. Anyway, I can show you where Chloe is, Natasha was telling me how excited Chloe was about you. Something about wanting to become your secondary teacher.”
“What?” Finch followed after Vinth.
Finch remembered the man’s name from the text he and Chloe had been reading, but right now he was more concerned about what the man had said.
As they went down the hall, and back down the stairs, Finch thought about his future education.
His father Ilias wasn’t particularly rich. In fact they were almost poor, but Ilias wanted a better life for his son, so he had been on the lookout for a personal tutor to pass the baton to for over a year now. He didn’t want to send his child to a simple public secondary school, but the time to make the switch was coming very soon and he was worried it would end up being his only option.
At the landing of the steps, Vinth stopped at the door to the foyer. Finch noticed that there were more stairs leading further down.
“Almost there.” Vinth said, and then following Finch’s gaze added, “Not that way, that’s the public entrance. The private royal library is kept safe, on an even lower level. Stay close, I don’t want to lose you in the crowd.”
And then they stepped out into the loud foyer. Finch really didn’t like it here. Nervous about losing him, Finch grabbed at Vinth’s hand. The guard looked down at him for a second, and then grabbed back. Finch felt a little more confident as they walked across to the door that Finch had found locked the other day. Vinth opened it, and they entered.
The room was filled with hard leather and metal armours on the left, as well as straight, single-edged swords on the right. They walked straight between the rows of arms and armament. Finch thought about Vinth. He must be the Vice-Captain to Natasha.
“Do you know Natasha?” He asked.
“Of course.” Vinth said, a little faster than normal.
“Well, Chloe says she’s been really busy all the time recently. Is that true?”
“Of course.” Vinth said again, “The guard are overseeing the construction of a third floor for the castle.”
Well, that did seem important. Maybe he would get a chance to talk to her after the renovations were done.
Vinth went right, passing the hanging row of swords, and then stopped at the wall between racks. Finch noticed beyond was another hall of equipment, but this barrier in between them was different. It had a door.
Vinth said, “Be careful now. This staircase was made before the kingdom had come up with appropriate staircase regulation. There is no landing, and it is a two flight drop. That is four times the usual height.”
“Umm,” Finch replied, “Do you mind much if I hold your hand here too?”
“If you must,” The guard stated.
Vinth unlocked the door with two separate keys, and then when they stepped in he locked it behind them. Finch looked down. There was a torch bracket in the wall, and the torch was lit.
As they went down the stairs, Finch occupied his mind thinking of the torch. It seemed to him that once this bracket had held a much older type of torch, but right now there was a thin metal cone with a rope wick sticking out. Surely the cone was filled with some form of oil or fat.
“We’re about halfway down. You can tell by the hum of the crowd in the cafeteria and announcement room.” Vinth said. “If you tunnelled through this wall that’s what you would find.”
Finch turned his thoughts to Chloe. She had been a whole lot of fun yesterday, and Finch was sure she would make a great teacher. He wondered if she wanted to teach him out of boredom, or if she really liked him. Probably both.
They finally reached flat ground, and turned right at a corner, and then another, and then another. They had made the most laborious left run Finch had ever taken.
“To prevent any dropped torches or other hazards from affecting the books.” Vinth said as they passed underneath the staircase.
And then Finch saw it: the library. It seemed to be a long room with openings on either side. Left or right, there were more halls lined with shelves. Each of these smaller hallways was labelled with a range of numbers that Finch realized were dates. The labels were in the same flowing script that had been on Chloe’s door.
“They’re organized by year!” He said.
“No,” Replied a muffled voice, “Not yet anyway.”
Chloe peeked her head out of one of the furthest racks. She had an armful of books, and as she stepped out, Finch realized she was carrying a couple more in her large right hand. He also noticed she was wearing long sleeves today.
“Oh, ah, hello there Finch.” She said.
“I will return to my work now.” Vinth said, and then promptly exited.
“Hi, I wondered if you might want to, um,” Finch suddenly felt a little out of place.
“Ah, well, see, I made some plans to rearrange the library you know,” Chloe said.
Finch was surprised that she wasn’t straining, carrying all those pages.
“Yeah… sorry.” Finch said.
“Oh don’t worry! Well, would you like to help? I’m almost done the current century you know.”
“You’re going by century?” Finch asked.
“No no,” She said, “Ah, well mostly yes, actually, but we’re grouping centuries with less writings together. See, ah, we only have twelve of these shelf sets, and we have about five or six… well, at least six millennia’s worth of writings.”
Chloe went back into her nook and put down her various volumes, then returned.
“Not bad, eh!” She said.
“Yeah,” And then, “Is what Vinth said true? About you wanting to teach me?”
“Ah!” The fair skin below Chloe’s eyes began to turn pink, “I, ah, I…”
Finch looked at her, trying to show that he would be very interested in the idea. He had a very hard time though, as he was quite certain that there was no expression for this. He ended up doing a sort of restrained nod instead.
“Well, I may have… changed my mind.”
“No!” Finch said, “My dad doesn’t want me to be stuck in a public school, he thinks I need better, since I’m always reading.”
“Hmm…” Chloe thought.
The library was silent for a long time. Chloe and Finch stared at each other.
“So, I could… teach you?” She said tentatively.
I know where this series is going to end. That’s a good thing, as now everything I write will be (more of) a means to an end instead of pantsing hoping for the best. I hope you’re ready for what’s coming,