Short Story: Slumbering Knowledge

Shelf upon shelf of books lay slumbering in the candle-lit evening, as if daring the lambent illumination to disturb them. Harald moved between them, tidying up after departed students and pausing every now and then to survey his domain.

The weight of the accumulated knowledge and fancy here sometimes felt enough to make the walls bow as much as the shelves did. The sturdy dark oak beams lent a sense of solidity and structure to the room – Harald sometimes found he likened it to a strong ribcage supporting the skin of the library, with the books as the internal organs without which it would have no life.

He didn’t dare mention this to his students of course, they had enough excuse to quietly mock their tutor without throwing fanciful imagery into the mix. Cadaverously thin with piercing blue eyes, he carried his nickname of ‘Mort’ with perverse pride and knew when to play to the image when correcting a student or instilling discipline. Books were rarely loaned out, but they were even more rarely returned later than agreed.

The candle light glinted off the silver quill pin symbol of office on his collar as he listened to the quiet. There were the faint noises of the building settling, joists creaking as the room cooled now there were fewer people here. He sighed, as much in relaxation as anything,

There were times when he felt as though his role was as much a relic as the books and palimpsets in his charge. Many did not see the value in picking through the voices from the past when there were so many demands in the day; and his students sometimes had a lot of unlearning to do before they could start to take the time to read and understand what was before them.

And yet, those who graduated were among the most ardent in sending new students to him. The hierarchies outside these walls were no barrier to knowledge and the techniques he taught. He felt a pride in that which sustained him in those moments when he had to make his own candles.

Harald finished his rounds, and carefully extinguished the candles on his final circuit of the room. At last he stopped near the door and looked back at the room. It was now illuminated by the starlight from the portholes overlooking the generation ship’s prow. He nodded in satisfaction. He would soon need to appoint his replacement, but for now his charges were safe. The literature of Old Earth lived on.

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