Libby stared at the guests roaming around the party. She was quite bored as she normally was with these things. Her parents had dragged her along like they always did. She was just biding her time for the moment she could duck out of sight. She knew the rules. Come along, say nothing unless needed, get shown off to those who needed to see her, then go away quietly and wait. Her parents were rich, really rich, and mostly they spent their time going to parties where other people were really rich. Libby was mostly her parents prop at these sorts of affairs. She accepted that, she knew her lot in life. The time was getting near where she could get away. She had just been introduced to the host, which was usually a sure sign that her parents no longer needed her. Her parents were rich, but not as rich as many of the people there, which meant they were at the bottom of the queue for talking to the host. As Libby like to put it, they were just barely rich. Which was why when her parents got the invitation to this party they were quite excited. “Just think of the contacts your father can make at this party.” Her mother said as she dressed her up and prepared her hair earlier. “It’s a great opportunity for our family.” Her father said as he patted her on the head. He used to kiss her on the forehead when he was patronizing her like this, she missed that affection. Now all she had were her books. Whenever they went to parties like this she always made sure that she brought a book with her, usually something with a thick spine since these parties seemed to drag on forever. She had come to love reading very much and it was her only sure companionship in her lonely world.
Her parents gave her the knowing nod when she looked at them from across the room. She was free. She started to roam the house to look for a comfortable spot as she plucked her copy of War and Peace from the coat room. There were some offices and a room that was clearly for staff preparation. She wandered down the spiral staircase and found what looked like a science lab. That just would not do. “Isn’t there a room with a comfy chair or something?” She wondered aloud, to nobody in particular. The next door she tried creaked open and the light from the setting sun had lit up the massive room perfectly. BOOKS! Piles of them everywhere and stacked high upon all the shelves. She must have found the Library. This was perfect. In the corner was a high backed chair that fit her perfectly. Three of the walls were bookcases from top to bottom at least 10 feet tall. There was even a rolling ladder to get to the higher shelves. Next to the chair was a table with a tower of books. She set down her copy of War and Peace and started thumbing through what was next to her in the chair. They were all books she had never heard of. That made her even more excited. She dived into one of them and lost herself among the words.
It wasn’t clear how long she had been reading. Time meant nothing when the pages were flipping in front of her. Her eyes methodically paced back and forth as she consumed every letter. She thought she heard a noise and she looked up. It was the host of the party. He stood tall and lean while he looked down over her. His expression was bleak and brooding. She slowly placed the book down and tried to melt out of the chair. The look on his face froze her though.
“I’m sorry sir.”
“Are you now?” His voice penetrated the room and echoed in her ears.
“I was just looking for a place to read and I found your library, my parents usually let me just go and read. I’m sorry.”
“Dear girl, don’t be silly. This is my reading room. The library is in there.” The host moved away from her. Her eyes must have been playing tricks on her because he seemed to float as he walked away from her. His demeanor improved as he moved away but he still had the same dark field across his face.
“I’m sorry sir. I just assumed this was the library.” She pondered how many books could be in the next room if this was merely a reading room. Her parents gave her as many books as she could keep in her room, but they had nothing like this.
“You do an awful lot of apologizing for someone who has done nothing wrong.”
“I’m sor…” She stopped.
“Would you like to see the library?” His voice rumbled as he stared out at the stars. While his voice was low and harsh Libby found a sense of friendliness in it.
“Yes sir, very much sir.”
“You may drop the pleasantries. Please call me Drake.” Again his voice mesmerised her. To anyone else she was sure it would sound cruel, but she found it inviting.
“Okay… Drake.” His formal title when she was introduced was Lord Armistace Bartholomew Draconis. He was known to be an advisor to many politically powerful people in the country, but no one was quite sure where his money came from. There were rumors, but Libby’s best guess was that he was a silent partner on several company boards. The rumors she had heard were simply too fantastic even for her wild imagination. Her schooling and private tutors had taught her enough to be skeptical as a rule.
“Ahh here we are, the library.” Drake flipped a large switch as Libby entered a room. There was a humming and one by one down and endless row of bookcases the lights came on. They went back as far as Libby could see. Rows and rows of bookcases, each one packed with more books than the reading room alone. She was shocked. She didn’t think that many books existed, let alone in one place.
“I think I could live here and die happy.” She whispered to herself.
“What was that dear girl?” Drake’s voice grumbled again.
“I think your library is very impressive. May I?” She held her hand up to the first shelf.
“Well, it’s no Alexandria, but I do try to keep a few books of importance. Allow me.” His voice was almost hypnotizing. Libby stepped back and let Drake take her place near the bookcase. He reached up to the top shelf. While he was tall she was sure he wasn’t tall enough to reach the higher shelves without a step stool. Yet somehow he effortlessly stretched and plucked a dusty copy of an unknown book to her. He handed it to her.
“What is it?” She said taking it gingerly.
“A collection of poems, handwritten by an old friend.”
She carefully peeled back the cover as dust fell off of it. There on the first page was an inscription and a picture. It read: “Dear Drake, Thank you for the many years of inspiration. Yours truly, J.R.R.” The picture was of an old man with white hair that had been combed back. He had a pipe in his mouth and a large black coat with fur around it. Next to him was Drake who look exactly the same as he did standing in front of her. It was almost as if he hadn’t aged a day. She recognized the old man immediately and her eyes got wide. “You knew Tolkien?”
“We met over the years off and on. I was rather impressed by his works. I have them all here.” Drake waved his hand nonchalantly. “I was saddened by his passing.”
Libby turned the page and started reading. After she finished the first poem she made to hand the book back.
“What’s the matter girl? Did you not like it?”
“I liked it very much s...I mean Drake.”
“Then take it, and read it. You may return it when you are ready.”
“Please, these books do not get read often enough and that is a shame. I am just one man, and while I love reading I cannot read them as much as they deserve. Do you like reading?”
“Very much so.”
“Then I’ll make you a deal. You may come here once a week and take and read as many books as you like so long as you return them. I let the staff know of your privileges. These books long to be read and I would hate to see them disappointed.”
“What’s down there?” Libby pointed to a staircase she just noticed in the corner.”
“That leads to the stacks and archives where I keep the rarer specimens in my collection.”
“May I go down there?”
“Not yet.” Something in the way he said it made Libby shudder. His voice had not changed but it felt colder.
“I promise I’ll be careful. I would like to see…”
“Dear girl.” His voice boomed as he seemed to get taller and the lights dimmed throughout. “I am giving you a rare opportunity here, do not spoil it.” The lights went back to normal and he seemed to shrink back to his former size, which was tall enough. She shivered where she stood. “It is late and I must ask that you not go down there without me, that is a condition of our agreement. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She meekly agreed.
“Good. Now I suspect that your parents are looking for you. You should go.”
She walked out of the room and back to the party area. Her parents were just getting their coats on and saying their goodbyes. There was Drake showing guests out. She wondered how he had gotten up there so quickly. She was sure she took the quickest path. But the mansion was big and she was tired, so she thought nothing of it.
“Oh Libby, get your coat dear, it’s time to go.” Her mother commanded her.
“Lord Dracronis, We had the most smashing time. Thank you so much for having us. I do hope our daughter did not disturb the guests too much. She’s usually off reading and well behaved. May I send you my business proposal as I mentioned earlier.”
“Yes of course. I may send it to one of my affiliates, if you understand, I’ve not much time to handle such things directly. Your daughter is lovely and carries herself as a true lady of the court.” Drake nodded at Libby as she rushed to her mother’s side.
“I am honored.” Libby’s father bowed slightly and her mother curtsied. But Libby was sure that Drake kept his eyes on her the entire time. He had a slight smirk that she had not noticed before and then he winked at her. Her parents did not notice and with that they turned and went out to their car which the valet had brought forward with impeccable timing. She looked back as she got into the car, but Drake was already speaking to other guests who were leaving. They appeared to be giving him the same groveling conversation that her parents had been.
“Libby dear, did you enjoy the party?” Her mother asked as they sat in the car.
“Yes mother.” With that her fathered gunned the engine and drove off silently into the night. Libby clutched her new book tightly and read through it all that night.