You sigh as you idly run your fingertips over the spines of row upon row of books, nothing is interesting to you today. The library is usually your safe place and where you feel most at peace, but you are in a total reading slump at the minute. You feel like you’ve tried a chapter of so much recently and been utterly bored everything, so you continue perusing the shelves, scanning for any interesting-sounding titles.
A thick, worn-looking book protrudes from the end of the shelf and catches your eye. Curious, you make your way over to it and remove it from the shelf. The brown binding is aged and frayed, it feels like it could crumble in your hands. There’s no title or blurb to give any indication of what this book is about, which just further peaks your interest.
Tucking the book gently under your arm, you make your way across the library to your favourite reading nook, a small corner tucked out of view, complete with a soft armchair you’ve spent many an hour in. A sense of excitement rises in you and you sit back in the armchair, allowing it to envelop you as you place the book on your lap. Tentatively, you open it to the first yellowed page. All at once, a rush of warm wind bursts from the pages as golden light spills out and a soft musky scent envelops your senses. The light becomes overpowering, blazing into your vision until you squint your eyes and eventually they close, the noise of the wind suddenly stopping.
You feel like you’ve just been dropped into a pool of water and dragged back out all in the space of a second, the sensation of coming up for air hits you like a ton of bricks as you gasp, feeling a warm tingle spreading throughout your entire body. You realise your eyes are still closed, so you gradually open them, still looking down, and notice you are grasping the book with shaking hands and white knuckles.
As your eyes readjust to the light, you slowly look up from the book and a cry gets stuck in your throat. You are no longer in the library. Well, you are in some kind of library, but not the one you got the bus to this morning. This library is at least five times the size, the rows extending for what seems like forever. You stand up from the fringed velvet armchair you landed in to take in your surroundings, a thick patterned carpet covers the floor, dark mahogany shelves lining the walls with leather-bound books spilling from every available surface.
A large stone fireplace flickers in the corner of the room, the orange light illuminating intricate tapestries which adorn the walls, weaving stories of battles long past. Exposed wooden beams dance across the high ceiling, matching the heavy carved furniture. The scent of spicy clove and earthy patchouli fills the room, creating a warm and comfortable atmosphere.
Before you can even begin to properly register just what is going on, you realise there is a gentle sobbing coming from the other end of the room. Following instinct, you make your way through the seemingly endless rows until you come to a woman weeping into a huge pile of books. Her hair is dark, but tucked away in a decorated cap, an ornate rust-red dress cinching in at her waist and flowing into layers and layers of exquisite fabric. The soft scent of vanilla perfume and musk surrounds her and she looks up through her tears and gasps, covering her hand with her mouth.
‘... Who are you? How did you get in here?!’ she cries out, her eyes scanning your out of place clothing as she backs away into the corner of the room.
‘I… well to be honest I’m not entirely sure’, you mumble, the sound of your own voice strange in these unfamiliar surroundings.
‘They sent you didn’t they? To take me away too? He’s innocent I swear it!’ she cries out once more.
‘I promise, no one sent me and I’m not here to hurt you. What is going on?’ you ask gently.
‘It's… my brother, he is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit! His trial is tomorrow and I cannot help him.’ Her body is wracked with silent sobs. ‘I’ve lost the letter that proves his innocence, it’s here in the library somewhere…this is all my fault...’ she falls back into an armchair and covers her face with her hands.
‘Well... I’ll help you look?’ you suggest. Considering you have absolutely no idea where you are or what is going on, this seems like a good place to start.
She looks up from her hands, eyes brimming with tears that she blinks away as she gulps. ‘Would you?! Oh, thank you! Thank you! It is a letter from The Archbishop detailing that he was with my brother on the night the crime took place, nowhere near the location! I need it to prove to the court that he is innocent.’ She rises from the chair, standing taller this time. ‘I was reading one night and must have accidentally closed it into a book. I have no idea which one!’ she gestures to the piles all around her, her expression pained.
You make your way to end of the shelves. ‘I’ll start here, you start at the other end. We’ll meet in the middle’. She nods quickly and moves to the opposite side of the library, her billowing gown trailing after her. You climb the dark wooden ladder until you reach the top shelf, and start pulling out every book you can find. Leather covers dyed deep blue, emerald and crimson are buttery soft in your hands, each page filled with exquisite hand painted illustrations and carefully copied text. The soft scent of amber and citrus guides you along the shelves as you flick through book after book.
Both entirely immersed into the task at hand, hours seem to pass by without your notice. You leaf through ancient historical tomes detailing people and places you've never heard of, fiction novels with tales of great adventures and love poetry hastily penned. There must be thousands of volumes in this library, you think, but you press on regardless and continue through hundreds of books. Coming to the end of the stack, you reach in for the final book and instead of hitting leather, your hands grasp thick parchment paper. Shakily you pull the paper from the shelf and see a crimson wax seal, The Archbishop's name. You cry out, almost jumping down the ladders rather than climbing and run to the woman.
‘Look, The Archbishop's seal! Is this the letter you need?!’ you exclaim.
Looking up from her intense concentration, she rushes toward you and plucks the letter from your hands. Looking it over shakily, she breathes a sigh of relief and presses the letter to her chest.
‘It wasn’t in a book at all, it was on a shelf’, you say.
‘Oh, goodness! I must have left it there when I was browsing! My brother is saved, oh thank you! However can I repay you...’ she tails off and gestures around the room, 'Take anything, anything you like!’
Your eyes scan the oversized room, landing on elaborately painted vases, complex golden ornaments and beautiful oil paintings, but something else catches your eye. A single wax candle on the mantelpiece, the wick not yet burnt. You reach for it and put it in your pocket, smiling. She looks at you in surprise but returns the smile. Filled with the sense that your time is coming to an end here, you bid her farewell and return to the armchair you started in. The unnamed library book is right where you left it, you take a deep breath and open it once more to the same rush of wind.
When you open your eyes and breathe again, the familiar electric lights and hum of gentle background activity is back. You’re back in the same chair, your regular life, but the book is gone from your lap. Reaching into your pocket, your hand comes into contact with wax and you find the candle is still there. Cupping it in your hands, you breathe in the scent. Soft patchouli and amber are spiced with clove and tangy citrus, but the sweet vanilla perfume of the mystery woman is still there. You smile to yourself, and rise from the chair.
If you ever feel the need to return to that day, the ancient library and the memories of a good deed, simply light The Tudor House Library and remember.