Tome of Tales
"Tell me a story mama." "It's very late little one. You need to go to sleep." "Please?" "Alright, but then you must go to sleep, promise?" "I promise!"
Something felt… wrong… out of place. My mind felt like it was walking through mud as the memory of my dream slipped from my consciousness.
Faintly I thought I could hear my name. It was muffled by the low hum that surrounded me. There it was again, distant.
Light streamed into my eyes as rough fingers pried them open. Wincing, I pulled my head back. Everything was blurry. I slowly twisted my head, scraping my cheek on the floor in the process, while emitting a faint moan as I could feel my body fighting to regain control.
As my vision cleared I realized I was in my bedroom, but how did I end up on the floor?
“Hey? Hey. HEY!”
My whole body immediately went rigid as a pair of large hands grabbed me and I found myself being lifted up and tossed onto my bed with excessive force. I couldn’t prevent the breath that burst out of me.
“Wake up!” said my father as he crossed the room to my window in a few quick strides. “Didn’t you feel that?”
I tried to work my mouth. “Feel… what?” I said in a harsh whisper.
“The earth, boy! It shook so fiercely I thought the whole house would come down on my head.” He turned his head from the window to look at me. “I’m not surprised to find you deaf to it. The whole kingdom could be in flames and a war just outside and you would still find a way to snooze through.”
I gathered myself and sat up. My head was still pounding, and the light was very bright. The room seemed like it was off balance, or was that just me?
As I tried to take in my bedroom, I could see the aftermath of the quake. My dresser and shelves had fallen over with many of my possessions now resting on the floor. My precious collection of history books my mother had given me, once shelved and neatly arranged, now lay scattered everywhere.
My father turned from the window. “Get dressed. We need to check for damage. I’ll take care of the house and livestock. You need to go check the fences.” With that he pivoted and quickly departed my room.
For a moment I just stared at the doorway where my father disappeared.
Tenderly I stood up and shuffling around I managed to find a usable outfit in the clutter. As I dressed I noticed my mother’s mirror had shattered onto the floor. Peering down at it I could see my reflection, broken in a dozen pieces staring back at me. Stubble had started to appear on my face. The inevitability of a boy growing up. I wanted more time… no. I needed more time. This meant manhood, and I would never be a man. Of only my father could understand like mom had.
“Now, boy!” said my father as he walked back into my room. Always it was the boy with him.
“Yes sir… but, my books?” I said as I went to collect the history tomes that meant everything to mother, and now to me.
“You can worry about that rubbish later! There are more important things to worry about than stupid words wasted on paper.”
The words stung. I never understood why my mother had chosen him. She loved books and was always reading. The only things he cared about were his stupid chores and pushing me around.
With a small yelp and the thoughts of a flogging, I dropped what I had and dashed out of my room, down the steps, and out the side door for the fields.
"Everything around you is a tale little one. Everyone's life is just a collection of tales. Since there were people, there have been stories, but memory is fallible. It fades or warps with time and retelling. So one day, a woman appeared, a woman who loved stories and wanted to write them all down. This woman wanted to make sure that all the stories would be kept safe for all of existence. In her desire she created a book, the Tome of Tales. In this magnificent tome the woman wrote down all of the stories of everyone who is and who was. Everything as it is got recorded on the pages of this magical tome. In time this affected her and she ascended to become a Goddess, the Goddess of History. This chronicler goddess watches out over this tome, keeps it safe, keeps it hidden. She sees all and ensures that all is written as it is until the time when people are no more."
Wading through the tall grass I approached the outer fence. This makeshift barrier consisted of stretches of wooden planks and cobblestone walls. It did a terrible job of keeping most of the livestock in but it was good at identifying the boundary of our land. At least according to the King’s tax collectors.
As I walked along the fence I found myself absently writing in my journal. Thankfully I always kept such a notebook in my outfits. The action of chronicling anything I found helped me find peace, and passed the time. It is a very long fence after all. Once in a while I found that I had to stop writing in order to put a board back, or roll a stone into place. During all of this I had to endure the turmoil and complaints of my stomach for having missed our breakfast. Something which did not escape unnoticed by my pen.
About half way around the field is when I came across something new. A cave just on the other side of the fence in the side of a hill, both which had not been there the day before.
I hopped the fence and approached the cave entrance. Everything seemed quiet, but the cave itself was dreadfully dark. Almost as if the daylight did not wish to touch it. I peered inside, but I could see nothing beyond the first few feet.
“Hello?” I called out. Not sure why I did that, nor why I would think anyone would be in there, but I failed to grasp any other course of action.
"Mama? Why write the tales if it stops when there are no more people?" "If it's not written in the book little one, then people would not remember the tales, the memory would simply be gone, and so people would be lost without knowing who they are, or where they have been." "But what happens when there are no more people?" "Once there are no more people, then the need for the Tome of Tales and of its chronicler is no more, and the world would have come to be at peace."
Desire to explore this discovery, I jotted a few last notes into my journal and I quickly hopped back over the fence and ran for the house. Thankfully my father was elsewhere. Once inside I grabbed some matches and the lantern, checked it for fuel since sometimes father forgets to refill it after his evening outings. With everything in hand I got up and ran back to the cave.
As I approached the cave my eagerness was starting to fade away. I was excited yet anxiety was growing. I put the lantern down and fell to my knees all while staring at the cave entrance. Slowly, I pulled my eyes away and focused on the lantern. I opened the glass door while striking a match, and carefully lit the wick.
The lantern bloomed to life.
Picking myself up I grabbed the lantern and approached the cave’s entrance. Just on the cusp of the cave I stopped, lifted the lantern and gazed into the darkness.
The light from the lantern barely illuminated the opening. The darkness stared back. It felt like it was pulsing and swirling around in the cave. An almost icky blackness consuming all that crossed its threshold. Standing this close I felt tingly. My nerves were on edge.
I cradled the lantern in the nook of one elbow and pulled out my journal to once again jot down anything of interest. With a deep breath I stepped in.
"Unlike the other divine spirits, the Goddess of History is not immortal little one. No, she lives for only a thousand years and then turns the book over to a new woman who takes the mantle of the chronicler goddess and continues in this task. So has it been, and so will it be." "If the goddess is replaced, is it always a girl?" "Yes. Only someone with the heart of a woman can pursue this task and protect the book. For she is the mother of all stories, and the keeper of all secrets."
With a sigh of relief at not being consumed by the darkness I continued further into the cave. After several steps even the nervous tingling sensations faded and I regained my composure and confidence as a small warmth grew in my chest.
I found that the lantern was only able to light a few feet in front of me, but I continued on. I’d been traveling for several minutes in what appeared to be a slight downward angle. I presumed there were a few twists and turns since when I turned to look back, I could no longer see the light from the entrance. Either that or I had been truly consumed and was forever lost in this darkness.
For a moment my thoughts turned to father and how he was going to kill me for this. Though the thought was only fleeting since I could muster no real concern over it. Who cares what that man thought or did. He lived in his own two-sided world and me in my void.
As I walked on, the tunnel turned into chiseled hallways and rooms. The walls started showing signs of prior habitation. Markings, symbols, and cutaways all decorated the surface of the walls. It looked like pictures of events, people, and places. Things that seemed familiar and yet at the same time alien. Feeling these walls I could sense the careful nature of the cuts and strokes of the images. Whoever had done these did so with delicate and thoughtful precision. I sketched what I could into my journal with what time I dared give until pressing on.
In what felt like hours, but surely could only have been minutes, I came to see a light further down the cave. It seemed strange in that it radiated a bluish hue.
As I got closer I could see that the bluish hue was a strange reflection of the light from a pool of water. Next to the pool sat a stone pedestal adorned in more strange markings, but these resembled specific symbols and not images as the prior markings had. As I crept closer I could see that atop the pedestal sat a large leather bound tome. The edges of its pages were yellow, and the cover was cracked and faded with what I could only guess was extreme age.
I hesitated to even touch it. It seemed like it would just explode into dust at the slightest provocation. Still, it would have been a waste to come all this way, skip my chores, to only turn around and get out of there. Though maybe that would be a smart idea.
Stepping forward I stretched out my hand and touched the book. My fingers recoiled in anticipation of the book disintegrating under the touch, but the book preserved. Moving slowly I gently laid my hand on the cover. It felt… rough, but sturdy. I absently put down my lantern, pocketed my journal, and proceeded to pry open the latch and open the book. To my delight the latch opened easily as if it was well tended and oiled.
The pages were incredibly thin and had some form of very tiny writing all over them. I strained my eyes and while I could make out the symbols I couldn’t read these strange marks.
The symbols were… twisting… reshaping into words. Words that I could read. The page I had opened to was talking about the founding of our kingdom. My heart skipped a beat. Was this a history book?
I quickly fanned through the pages until I come to the last one with writing on it. Here the words seemed to be writing themselves as if the book was still being written by a ghost hand.
As these letters were molding into something I could understand, something puzzled me. It appeared to be writing about, me… in this very place. What was this? The book was now writing that someone else was here.
A scraping sound from behind me grabbed my attention and I spun around. “Welcome home, little one.”