So I ran across a bit of a stumbling block with my last entry in chapter one. I was watching an Australian romantic comedy series called Please Like Me, and the energy of humorously awkward romance bled into my writing and it completely didn’t fit within the story. At least not at this moment in the story. I realized very quickly that I needed to take another stab at this chapter, and I’m really happy that I did. When I first wrote it, in addition to the tonal problem, I also ran across a real problem of getting my characters from one point to another: I wanted to talk about the library, but first I had to get them to the castle gate, then through the corridors leading to the library. But I don’t actually know much about the castle layout.
So how did I solve this problem? I did what I always do, I started in the middle. This picks up in the first draft right after Hephaestion tells Lucas to lead the way out of the town square, and begins inside the old library in the castle. I may come back later to flesh out how they got there, or since it isn’t terribly important, I may leave it the way it is.
Another big problem I’ve had is that some very important storyline things are about to happen right here in this library, and I have been very intimidated. My goblin is about to make his grand appearance to my protagonist, and things are going to begin being set in motion that will actually cause the events of the plot to begin to unfold. That is, surprisingly, a very daunting thing to write. I’ve spoken the scene aloud several times to myself in the shower or in other places, but I needed to get Lucas and Hephaestion into the library to make it happen.
Also, this is a note about editing, but I’m not really sure how important of a role Rex and Eric will play in the story. Because I’ve been so interested in Lord of the Rings lately, I had thought about making Rex and Eric a part of the main cast, at least in the beginning, to journey with Lucas, but I’m also considering leaving them out entirely. Rex was a spur of the moment character I invented to get Lucas to Hephaestion, and Eric is a redesign of an older character from the conceptual material. Still, I can’t say how any of this will go from here, but I’m asking you to disregard the last version of the library as no longer canon, and take this one as the truth instead. I know that editing and redrafting is something that typically happens later, but I was unable to move on with the story from where I left it before.
Moonlight fell in blue shafts from the high, long windows of the old library, and in the illumination, the dust of a long-forgotten place danced and swirled. Lucas stood leaning on the railing that overlooked the floor beneath, where more high windows cast moonlight over the long tables beneath, covered in books that lay half open, as though they were abandoned in haste. Chairs were still pulled out and scattered among the floor, and on all sides of the room were the rows and rows of high, tall wooden shelves, filled with books whose spines stood strong and quiet in the desolate place.
The library was a part of the royal wing, and like the rest of the royal wing of the castle it had fallen into disuse and, eventually, abandoned almost entirely. Across the many shelves were gaping holes where books had been taken to be moved to the scholar’s library on the other side of the castle, where work was still done, and no doubt the lamps still burned as the night came on in full. Lucas found himself hypnotized by the site of old library, standing like a ruin in the quiet moonlight. A set of wooden stairs that had once gleamed with polish and now covered with a fine layer of dust led up to the landing where he stood, and behind him were even more rows of bookshelves, and shelves built into the walls, reaching higher than anyone could stand, and so there were ladders placed haphazardly around the area, where the scholars had cleaned out anything of particular interest long ago.
It had been ten years since Lucas had visited this place, and even in this dark state, where no lanterns burned in any corner, only moonlight and shadow, it still held it’s charm. Lucas smiled to himself and he turned around. He walked through a darkened aisle where nothing could be made out on the spines of the books, and then stopped at a shelf where the moonlight fell, and he ran his forefinger along the dusty spines.
Old leather-bound volumes with faint traces of color that had long since been worn away adorned the spaces that weren’t left empty, and he grabbed one at random to examine it, pulling it out, and in the illumination of moonlight seeing a cloud of dust erupt from it’s vacant space. The old spine gave a loud creak as he opened the book to the center and ran a hand across it’s yellowed pages. In the moonlight he could make out some of the text, but it seemed uninteresting: an old history book, and it was recounting a battle of Alexandria. Since it didn’t refer to the city as New Alexandria, it must have been outdated, and supplanted with more reliable information, so this old volume was left. He slipped it back into it’s place on the bookshelf, noticing that the two books on either side of the vacant space hadn’t budged at all, so used to sitting still and silent were they.
He explored his way through several more aisles, pausing to run his fingers along the dusty spines, but from the titles saw nothing that sparked his interest. Nothing fictional, no tales of adventures, no chronicles of great heroes. Mostly books about Alexandrian history and law. He saw littered against the stone columns scattered through the library glass cases under which terribly old volumes sat, their pages opened, the ink faded. He stopped in front of one, a shaft of blue light cast on it, and he peered down to see a crude drawing of a wolf, and some text beside it giving it a name. He wasn’t sure if this was a mythological story of an actual account of a hunter fighting a ravenous beast. It was still too difficult to make out much more than a few words.
Lucas heard a cork pop and it startled him, he turned quickly to see Hephaestion sitting against the far stone wall, just beneath a window and covered in moonlight himself. He had opened the bottle of brown liquid that he’d carried within his satchel. Lucas held the empty satchel over his shoulder, hoping that he would find something in the library worth bringing home, but so far nothing had spoken to him. He made his way over to Hephaestion and folded his arms with a look of false disapproval.
“Cadet,” said Lucas in a tone of mock authority, “Sitting about on the floor after hours in a restricted area, drinking pilfered liquor. What are we to make of you?”
Hephaestion grinned and turned the bottle up, taking one hardy swig before coughing and pressing his fist to his chest. Lucas raised his eyebrows. Hephaestion wiped his mouth and looked up, then croaked out, “Pretty good stuff.”
“Really?” asked Lucas in genuine curiosity, sitting down on the floor in front of Hephaestion, who handed him the bottle.
“No,” replied Hephaestion and cleared his throat, “Tastes like fried piss. But I think it’s supposed to.”
Lucas looked down at the bottle. Clear and a little dusty, with some words written across the front in ornate calligraphy that he couldn’t quite read in the dim light. He’d never really liked alcohol, though he’d drank wine at official dinners, and had been told by his father that to refuse the wine was an insult to the staff. He enjoyed the bitter red wine more than the sweet white wine, and he assumed from the sickening smell of this liquid that it would be bitter. He exhaled and bravely took a drink, upending the bottle the same way Hephaestion had, instantly choking, and then setting the bottle down and coughing, some of the liquid escaping from his lips as he did so. It burned his throat and seemed to remain hot as it settled somewhere in his chest.
“That is disgusting,” croaked Lucas.
Hephaestion nodded matter-of-factly. “Indeed, but I think that’s the idea.”
“Why would people knowing drink this?” asked Lucas, although he didn’t have to have an answer because even after one drink he could already feel his head swimming.
Lucas got up and walked over to the wall beside Hephaestion, who took another, more cautious drink, and kept it down this time. Lucas slid down the wall to sit beside Hephaestion, and the two passed the bottle between one another, drinking quietly.
“You know,” said Lucas after a few minutes, feeling suddenly very conversational, “There really is a magic to this old place, but the books don’t seem terribly interesting.”
Hephaestion finished a drink and shrugged, “I don’t really like reading all that much.”
Lucas felt a little puzzled, “Why not?” he asked, “Don’t you want to learn about things you didn’t know before?”
Hephaestion nodded, “Absolutely,” he said, “But I prefer to hear it from people older and wiser than me, I like to hear it spoken. I don’t mind learning about history and philosophy and even theology, I just don’t want to read it. Seems like when I read it, I’m left to sort out what it all means, but when a professor or a tutor explains it, they know how to make sense of it.”
“You just need practice making sense of things,” said Lucas, and realized his words were slurring a little.
“Do you think,” said Hephaestion, “Your father is going to be angry with you for sneaking out?”
Lucas pursed his lips and thought for a moment, then nodded, “Most definitely. I’m probably afraid. I don’t feel afraid, but I’m probably afraid. Unpleasant guy, my father.”
Hephaestion nodded in agreement, “He seems very stern.”
“He is,” replied Lucas, “And cold, and unfeeling, and demanding, and surprisingly boring. He commands respect everywhere he goes, and yet he never has much interesting to say. Always going on about politics and talking about the welfare of other people, but he doesn’t seem to show any interest in the welfare of people around him.”
“You mean you,” suggested Hephaestion.
“I mean me,” affirmed Lucas, “He absolutely could not care less about my interests, but he feels the need to have control over everything I do. I’m nineteen, I want to make my own choices.”
“It sounds nice to me, though,” said Hephaestion, “To have a parent to make rules for you. My only parents are the officers, and they believe in letting people learn things the hard way. If I want to go out in the middle of the night and get myself into trouble, I can do it, and then I can come home with a terrible headache and a black eye, and they just nod and tell me that I learned my lesson.”
“I wish my father were like that,” said Lucas, drinking bravely now, as the bottle was less than halfway full.
“No you don’t,” said Hephaestion with an edge of sadness in his voice, “I never got to know either of my parents, they died when I was so young that I don’t even know if my memories are real or if I’m just imagining them. I have this idea of what my mother probably looked like but I can’t be sure. And my father, I just remember him holding my hand and walking me around town, nothing much else. When they died, I was sent to the academy and raised by the officers.”
Lucas had heard about all of this before but it still saddened him. Even though he wished Hephaestion had had the chance to know his family, he wouldn’t have traded places with him and wished his own father on Hephaestion for anything.
“I don’t remember my mother, obviously,” interjected Lucas, “She died in childbirth. So I’ve truly never had a mother, as long as I’ve been alive. Except maybe for a minute or two. It was just my father and the nannies and tutors.”
Hephaestion snickered, “Nannies.”
“What?” asked Lucas incredulously.
“It sounds so pampered, doesn’ it?” asked Hephaestion, turning to look at Lucas with a smile, “Raised by nannies in a governer’s mansion.”
“It wasn’t our mansion until my father became governer,” said Lucas.
Hephaestion rested a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. Lucas’ pulse quickened but only slightly. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, “It isn’t your fault your mother died, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any nannies. I shouldn’t have been so callous.”
Lucas shook his head reassuringly, “It really doesn’t bother me to talk about my mother,” he said, “For all purposes I’ve never had one. And in as much as I’ve had a father, well… he hasn’t done a very good job of being a father.”
Hephaestion turned away from the wall and laid out flat on his back, spreading out on the floor. The light from the window was fully illuminating him. His cotton shirt was coming up just above his waist and the bottom of his stomach was exposed. In the light Lucas saw the light sprinkling of fine brown hair along his lower stomach. He also noticed the small hill in Hephaestion’s trousers between his legs, and had a difficult time looking away, since Hephaestion’s eyes were closed and he didn’t notice. Lucas shifted and then reached between his legs to adjust himself. He took another drink. He was surprised to realize it was the last of the liquor.
Hephaestion sat up suddenly, and looked directly into Lucas’ eyes. The moonlight was illuminating his face perfectly. He looked so young. He was twenty, but he might have fourteen. His auburn hair framed his face in long, bright curls, and his eyes were chestnut, the perfect complement to the color of his hair, deep eyes that always showed so much genuine emotion, framed by thick eyebrows. His skin was an olive tan, his jaw was square and his full lips were in an expression of seriousness that was in no way menacing. His eyes always seemed to be pleading to understand, there was a strength to his taut body and square features, and a gentleness in the way he applied them.
“Do you hate your father?” he asked.
Lucas was a little shocked by the question. “Why would you ask?”
“You’ve told me so many awful things about him,” said Hephaestion, “The few times I’ve spoken with him when I’ve been to your house he’s had little to say, and he does seem very cold. He frightens me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. And I just suddenly realized I’ve never heard you say you love him.”
Lucas thought for a moment. Did he hate his father? His immediate instinct was to affirm that he did hate him, but he wasn’t sure that hate was the right word. “I….” he began hesitantly, “I guess I just don’t really care about him. I don’t… love him. I don’t love him, but I don’t know that I hate him. I don’t care enough to hate him. I just want him to go away.”
Hephaestion looked up into the light from the window and an expression of thoughtfulness crossed his face. Then he asked, “He’s never hurt you, has he?”
Yes. In every possible way.
“Um,” said Lucas, “Well…”
“I mean physically,” added Hephaestion.
“I, uh…” began Lucas again.
Hephaestion shook his head, “It’s fine. You don’t have to say anything. Just… I just don’t want to think of him hurting you. You deserve better than that. I want you to be safe.”
Lucas felt a warmth in his chest that came from some source other than the liquor which made his head churn. “Thank you,” he said, unsure of what else to say, “I… thank you.”
Hephaestion laid back down on his back, and spread out his limbs again. Lucas felt suddenly very brave, and he got down to his knees and crawled over, then curled up beside Hephaestion with his back to Hephaestion’s side, and Hephaestion reached down and put an arm under Lucas’ head. He rested his head on Hephaestion’s warm arm, after a few moments feeling the blood pumping a little harder to compensate for Lucas being there.
Neither of them spoke. Lucas felt warmth in his chest. He sighed contentedly. He thought he felt Hephaestion’s chest shake behind him in a slight chuckle. His eyes were heavy, and now that he was horizontal he realized the room was spinning. He shut his eyes, and the spinning stopped being disorienting and became comforting. The floor swam beneath him, and the warmth of Hephaestion’s body seemed to envelop him, and he fell asleep.