Sample Chapter

In The House of the Order...

At the highest reach of the Great Library’s grounds, the House of the Sisters sat like a plump lord overlooking his estate. The wide house, speckled with fat little windows, was the home of the Order of Cerinne. Within, its rooms were taken by the women and girls of the Order, from the Pupils in the attic dormitory to the eldest Sisters in the autumn of their lives, who enjoyed spacious rooms in the lower floors. 

Thea lay in the dark, watching moonlight strike patterns across the ceiling. Her mother’s book of plants lay heavily on her chest and she drew her fingers over the familiar scuffs on the cover.

The House at night was a strangely crowded place. Thin walls and old beds made the nights noisy, though she’d long since swapped the dormitory for the privacy of a smaller room. Behind the wall to her left, she heard another Under Sister cough.  Overhead, a body turned over in bed, making the springs squeak. All the noise made it difficult, Thea reflected, to feel lonely. 

Beside her, closer, another bed creaked. Thea smiled. Myrah never stirred once she fell asleep. 

Thea returned the botany book to the side table and pulled back the covers, raising them high to cast a shadow across the room. As the silhouette rose on the wall, there was a shuffling from the next bed and Myrah slipped in under Thea’s raised arm, curling up in the slip of empty space she’d left. 

{You should be sleeping.} Thea told her. 

{I can’t. Will you tell me a story?} Myrah asked. 

{Aren’t you too old for bedtime stories?}

{A Sister is never too old for stories.} Thea laughed, stirring Myrah’s hair. Knowing she’d won, Myrah insisted, {Tell me the story of the Library.}

{You’ve heard that lots. You tell me.}

{You tell it better.}

Thea huffed a pretend sigh and began. 

‘There are two stories of how the Great Library came to be. As the truth is a fact long forgotten, each might be considered both true and not true.’ 

Even though she didn’t need to, Thea said the words aloud. It was nice to hear the parallel, to bring the words out into the open to move in the darkness. It was only for Thea’s benefit, though. Myrah couldn’t hear them. She was born deaf and had never known a voice that wasn’t written down. So Thea wrote her story to her, patterning the words into Myrah’s small hand to match the spoken words. A voice just for her. 

‘The first story concerns the great goddess of knowledge, Cerinne. In the time of demons, before the end of the Wars and the death of magic, the gods often walked on mortal soil. To disguise themselves they hid in the skins of animals. Astill, of the forests, could be seen as a great stag. Alantia, of the seas, preferred the body of a sea lion to ride her waves. Cerinne chose the body of a vixen. But it was when they walked in their own bodies that the gods most caught the attention of mortals.

‘The prince in our tale was not the first to fall in love with Cerinne’s beauty, but his was the passion that was most violent. When he saw Cerinne walking in his lands, he was overwhelmed with desire and knew he must have her for his own. It was said he even killed his wife and their child so that he would be free to marry the god. When he again saw Cerinne, after years of waiting, he tricked her into entering his home, where he trapped her within a library designed to be her prison. Cerinne pleaded for her freedom, promising him riches and power, but the prince refused. He forced Cerinne to marry him and soon she was with child.

‘Cerinne wasted in her prison, her sanity saved only by the life that grew within her, and the joy she found in the books she loved. When she gave birth, it was with all the pain and terror of a mortal woman.

‘Cerinne named her daughter Ellorah. But her long imprisonment and the pain of labour had taken its toll. Cerinne was dying. The prince, who truly loved Cerinne, could not stand to see her die. So, though it tore his heart in two to do so, he freed her. Released from the enchantments, Cerinne fled the castle, wearing the red fur of the vixen.

‘The daughter she left behind was beloved by her father who, tortured by his own wicked act, built The Great Library for her, so that she might find the happiness in books that her mother had.

The woman Ellorah grew wise and old, living far longer than any mortal. When finally she lay down her head in old age, Cerinne returned to her child. Ellorah was made young again and went with her mother to the land of the gods to live eternal. The Library was left to the Sisters, with whom Ellorah had shared her life.’

Thea stopped, listening to the night creep back into the room as her voice faded.

{So sad.} Myrah said on Thea’s hand.

{Yes.} Thea agreed. {What a horrible prince.}

{But Cerinne was bad too. She left her daughter.}

Thea didn’t reply for a moment.

{She’s not bad.} Thea wrote finally. {There are lots of reasons why a mother would leave her child.}

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