It was early brightening when I heard a knock at the door. Curious of who would be here this early I looked out into the sitting room. Mother was accepting a letter from a messenger from the Old Quarter. I knew he was from the Old Quarter as he was much cleaner than most who you would find around here.
“A message Mother?”
Mother was looking at the wax sealed upon the crisp white envelope.
“Oh, you are up early Celeste. It seems to be from Lady Winifred.” She cracked the seal and began reading. After a moment her eyes widened.
“But this cannot be… I cannot believe she would do this.”
“She has allowed you to access her library, however it is for mid-brightening today. Even if you were to leave now you would be hard pressed to arrive in time.”
I ignored the obvious slight in the letter. This would not have happened if our family still had our fortune but since falling on hard times many in the Old Quarter seemed to enjoy taking pleasure in our misfortune. Just another example of bored people with too much money.
“She has accepted? How delightful! I must make haste to ensure that I arrive on time.”
I rushed back to my room and pulled out one of the best dresses which I still possessed. Muttering under her breath mother was waiting by the door with a hastily thrown together breakfast for me.
“Thank you Mother.” A quick peck on the cheek and I was out through the door.
Being so early in the brightening there was not much in the way of foot traffic and I made good time to the Old Quarter, I was coming up to the gate fast. I paused for a moment to catch my breath. Thankfully there was no rain today and as I wiped away some of the dust from the journey over I conjured the illusion of elegant jewellery adorning my person. As I approached the gate I was halted by the guards.
“Halt! What is your business here?”
“I am just returning from helping those poor unfortunates in the Lower Quarter. You know how terrible they have it, we do need to help out where we can do you not agree?”
I paused as he ran his eyes over me.
“I see you are looking at my dress. I know it is not my best, but then you do not really want to wear finery in such a rough area.”
This seemed to confuse him even more as he compared the dress to the shining jewels I was wearing tracing his eyes along the soft curve of my neck and to my cleavage. He just nodded dumbly and ushered me past.
Inside the Old Quarter I was greeted by large stone mansions painted a pristine white, finely manicured gardens with carefully arranged topiary and streets so clean one of lesser nobility could have eaten off of them. As always it was a fine display of restrained extravagance. House servants discreetly traveled the streets, their presence so unobtrusive that they blended in seamlessly to the scenery. I pulled one over and had him direct me to Lady Winifred’s mansion. I gave him a polite nod in gratitude and gracefully made my way.
Shortly I was in front of Lady Winifred’s mansion. A servant opened the door and ushered me inside and led me to the solar. There was Lady Winifred gazing out of the window holding a cup of fine china, the sweet smell of jasmine tea hung in the air. Her face was taut with age, crow’s feet played around her sharp brown eyes and her grey hair was tied tightly into a stern bun. I curtsied towards her and she beckoned me forward.
“So you are the De Alicorn girl, you have grown since last I saw you. When was that again? You were five? Six? How is your mother doing? It is such a shame what happened to her and to think that it could happen to any of us.”
“It is indeed that such unfortunate circumstances occurred, however mother does seem to be in healthy spirits. Helping the more unfortunate seems to give her such a lively glow.”
“Oh my! There are those who are even more unfortunate? How simply terrible! One would think that if things are so tough then those in such circumstances would be better off trying to live better.”
“One does what one can of course, sometimes it seems that only Malafice herself can know what the future will bring. Of course we will all have the chance to talk to her, some sooner than others.”
“Indeed we will. Now I hear that you would like to access my library. You must understand that my late husband spent an entire lifetime gathering these books for the prosperity of knowledge, I cannot let just anyone in you understand. What exactly are you looking for?”
“There is so much that we just do not know about the world. Just think of that which has gone before and has been recorded in such precious tomes. There is so much to be discovered within the words that others have been left behind.”
“Hmm. I see. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a worthwhile endeavor. I will let you access my library. However you will abide by my rules. These books are very old and very fragile. While you are here I will be keeping a close eye on you. You are not to remove any books from the library and you must replace any book to the exact place where you got it from. You may only have one book at a time and at all times you will be required to wear reading gloves. There is to be no food or liquids in the library and if you wish to make notes the inkwell must be on the far side of the writing desk away from the book. Of course absolutely no flames are allowed near any of the books.”
“Yes Lady Winifred, I understand and I respect your reverence for these precious tomes.”
“Hmm. Yes. The day is moving so let us retire to the library.”
We entered the library, it was magnificent. Books lined the walls two stories high, old oaken shelves formed rows throughout the room, the sheer volume of knowledge within this room was breath taking. Truly it was a lifetimes worth of collecting. Lady Winifred briskly explained the organisational system of the library. It was needlessly complicated and seemingly designed to make searching for specific knowledge difficult and frustrating. At least it would be for someone without my level of intelligence of course. I decided to begin with the most pressing matter, the Silken Kiss. Perusing through the books related to medicine I found a rare tome with specific details relating to the Silken Kiss. It turns out that it was not so much a poison as it is an acid which targets the brain. It slowly dissolves the brain causing significant decreases in cognitive function, causing bodily functions to cease and eventual death. I closed the book and my eyes at the same time. There would be no hope for Felix other than the most powerful of the order of Sol and then it would be an impossible expense. Even the wealthiest in the Old Quarter would be hard pressed to afford such a treatment. I replaced the book and took a breath.
I needed a distraction from this upsetting revelation. My mind fell to Dain, he certainly is a distraction. Looking through the library I found some fascinating tomes on the dwarven home of Hiedelhiem and dwarven history. Going through them there were some absolutely fascinating facts on their homeland and on the dwarves themselves. Dain is going to love this information, he should be ecstatic with this.
Keeping an eye on Lady Winifred I started looking through the library for anything to do with magic. Eventually I came across an ancient tome, its pages yellow with age. I carefully turned the pages. What a find! It was a treatise on the origins of magic. It theorised that all magic originated from a single source and that it was not until later that magic was divided into the four religious sects. This lent credibility to the theory I had been developing based on some of magical historic artifacts and discovered knowledge from previous epochs of history that my late master Theodore had possessed. Some of the more fascinating facts referred to sections within the appendix and flicking to it an amazing discovery was made. Someone had made the notations for spells within the appendix, two from the Lorekeepers methodology of magic and two from the Malafice methodology of magic. It was an almost impossible find, I could not leave these here. I casually strolled nearer towards the door and created an illusion of sound of something fragile shattering in the next room. Lady Winifred started and dashed out of the library. As I carefully tore the page out of the book and pocketed the precious knowledge I heard Lady Winifred shrilly shout.
“What did you break? Don’t try to deny it, I heard it! Tell me you little slut, what did you break? Whatever it was it is coming out of your pay!”
I quickly replaced the book and pulled out another from nearby. The art of Cooking Pork, a Hundred and One Ways to Fully Utilise Your Hog. Really? Lady Winifred came back into the library flustered.
“It is time for you to leave. I do hope you will come back again”
The tone in her voice dripped with barely concealed sarcasm.
“It was an honor Lady Winifred. I do look forward to the next opportunity to take pleasure in the wealth of knowledge of which such a generous lady of your beneficent stature cares for.”
With my prize safely concealed I left Lady Winifred’s home and the Old Quarter and returned back to the Warden’s.