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To Be Held

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       All was quiet in the Great Library of the castle. 

       Through winding stretches of shelves littered with tomes- some dating back a thousand trine- a serene silence- a sense of calm flowed like a lazy river. The labyrinthian maze twisted and turned and even looped back on itself as if the walls themselves were in no hurry to be anywhere. It was easy to get lost if you weren’t too keen as to remember your steps.

       Despite it’s design the library was by far the most welcoming part of the castle- well-lit for easy reading with large plush chairs tucked into nearly every available corner. The shelves had long ago grown overcrowded with a nearly uncountable number of books, scrolls, and journals leading the newer additions to be stacked on the ground in haphazard patterns- leaning towers, piles, and even pyramids. The air was dusty, but warm. 

       Princess Brea had already caught herself dozing off a few times before a creaking voice caught her attention.

       “You know I held you once. When you were just a childling.” 

       Brea looked up from the book she held, quickly spotting the Scroll-Keeper nearby, seemingly lost in thought. She glanced around the library, only vaguely aware that there was no one else he could have been addressing. 

       He must have noticed this and chuckled, craning his long neck away from the book he read to look in her direction, “Yes. I am speaking to you, princess.”

       She turned back to look at him, dumbstruck. “You held me as a childling?”

       “At your debut party.” He said thoughtfully, “It seems like many trine ago, now.”

       Of course. Her first public appearance as a princess- nothing more than a tiny bundle toted around a party to be stared at by any and all important persons in Thra. It was a formality- and certainly one she would never remember, but now she was beginning to wish she could.

       “-But I wasn’t the only one.” skekOk continued, "skekLach was rather insistent on seeing you. Even going so far as to shove me out of the way- only to comment on how you looked like a worm.”

       Brea scoffed in disbelief, “A worm?”

       “She never was an elegant speaker.” He turned back to his book, flipping the page, “…And you did look a bit like a worm."

       There was a beat of silence where Brea was still reeling, but she couldn’t just let that thought end there! She wanted more! How old had she been? Had any other Skeksis been there? What else happened at the party? Had Skeksis held her sisters when they were young? 

       Moments like these were few and far between- skekOk’s ever-shifting temperament often left him irritable and without the patience required to entertain the princess’ many queries. But, when moments like these did present themselves, Brea was sure to ask as much as she could muster in the brief window of opportunity. 

       “Oh.” She managed, half-closing her book. She wanted to ask so much, but it was best to choose just one question at a time, “Were any of the other Skeksis there? At my party?”

       skekOk hummed, “…If I recall correctly the Ritual-Master attended as well…though he abstained from the festivities…for the most part…” He suddenly closed his book, placing it back on the shelf, “He never liked mingling with the common folk. Though he certainly never complained once he had a glass of wine in his hand!”

       Brea couldn’t help but giggle imagining the imperious skekZok being a wallflower at a party, drinking a healthy sum of wine. Though, from her limited time in his presence, she did get the impression that the Ritual-Master found most interactions exceedingly tedious. She closed her book, placing it gently beside her, and leaned over the arm on the enormous plush chair she had claimed.

       “Did you go to my sisters’ parties?” She asked.

       skekOk paused in his search for a new book, tapping his chin. “No…I believe skekShod was there in my stead on several occasions.”

       “The Treasurer?”

       skekOk smiled, “Correct! Oh, the poor Treasurer absolutely loathed those parties. I heard your eldest sister’s debut was especially strenuous.”

       “Really?” Brea gasped, leaning further over the chair’s arm, “What happened at Seladon’s party?”

       skekOk finally seemed to find the book he was looking for, pulling it from the shelf to examine its cover. “Well…you see, Princess Seladon was the All-Maudra’s first child- and next to inherit the title- which warranted a more…prestigious appearance.” He flipped to a seemingly random page, “Of course, the Emperor himself would not travel such a distance, but he did send his most trusted advisor.”

       In her excitement, Brea leaned so far over the arm of the chair that she practically fell, only catching herself just in time, “SkekSil went to Seladon’s debut party?”

       “And as I recall he made quite the spectacle pestering skekShod that night, resulting in a rather heated argument the Ritual-Master ended by clubbing skekShod with his scepter! Hah! The poor Treasurer lost nearly a handful of teeth that night.” 

       Brea, who was almost at a loss for words, quickly scrambled for a new question, “What about Tavra’s party?”

       “Hm…there’s not much to say- it was a relatively calm evening- apart from one little incident skekZok complained about endlessly. Apparently skekLach had accidentally dropped the new princess on her head! Fortunately no one saw, but the Ritual-Master was furious! Ranting and raving about how embarrassing it was.” The Scroll-Keeper gave a raspy chuckle, then suddenly shook his head at the memory, waving a hand as if to shoo it away. 

       With that he fell silent again, closing the book with a loud slap, returning it to it’s place, and shuffling over to a different shelf to continue his search- all while muttering under his breath.

       Brea, sensing any more questions would be ill-received, sank back into her chair. Just like that, her window of opportunity had closed. 

       The princess sighed quietly, pressing herself into the corner of the too-big armchair, and returning to her book- thought now it seemed much harder to focus. 

       She diligently kept her eyes glued to a page she must have read several times by now- listening to every mumble, every page turn, every shuffle of clothing until-

       “Here!” The Scroll-Keeper’s grating voice boomed. Brea jumped, looking over her book to see the Skeksis looming above her, holding out an open tome. One long gangly grey-blue finger pointed to a hastily written passage of the Scroll-Keeper’s own looping handwriting. “I believe this will elucidate the matter.”

       The princess hesitantly took the heavy book, settling it awkwardly in her lap to see the page skekOk had been pointing to. Eagerly, she read the passage.

       ‘Today was the Debut Ceremony of All-Maudra Mayrin’s third daughter- Princess Brea. The party was just as dull as I remembered them! The cacophony of chattering Gelfling was most certainly one of the most strenuous things I have ever had the displeasure of being subjected to. The Ritual-Master attended, as was customary, along with skekLach and myself. 

       'The journey there was arduous enough. The long distance stuffed in that awful carriage with those two leaves me dreadfully weary. Hours of uncomfortable silence broken by The Collector’s unseemly snorting and hacking. I could hardly stand it and nearly leapt from the carriage before it came to a stop!

       'Within seconds of our arrival at the palace a glass of wine had appeared in skekZok’s hand and he had gravitated towards a secluded corner of the room. We followed suit. 

       'It was a dreadfully uninspiring affair, lingering on the outskirts of the party, offering stilted conversation only to ourselves. And it was a rather unwelcome surprise when the little All-Maudra finally approached us. 

       'I cannot recall what she had said, as I was not listening, but I saw that in her arms she held a small, squirming thing wrapped in simple blankets. I must have stared a bit too long because it was then the All-Maudra asked if I wanted to hold her. Hardly! I was about to refuse but before a sound could slip from my beak the little creature was placed in my arms.

       'She weighed no more than a stone, staring up at me with those large green eyes. Innocent and unburdened by any knowledge beyond that of her soft blankets and the arms that cradled her. I had never held such a young Gelfling in all my trine and in that moment I believed she was the only creature in all of Thra who did not fear us.

       'Little Brea was not dissuaded by my claws and teeth as she reached a plump little hand up to pull my glasses off of my face. She was indeed a bold princess. And a clever one. I told her so, experimentally poking her with a claw. The princess shrieked and giggled. skekZok groaned at the noise, practically covering his ears, but I was delighted. 

       '…That is, until skekLach shouldered her way over, demanding she have a turn holding the “worm”. I hissed at her. The Ritual-Master- refraining from violence as to not spill his drink- said, “Absolutely not! You’ll drop it like the last one!” Hah! Serves her right for being so rude. She slunk back off to her side of the corner, which amused little Brea enough to send her into another fit of ear-piercing giggles.

       'I held onto the princess for a little longer than was absolutely necessary, returning her to the All-Maudra with some empty compliment about how the princess would grow up to do great things. But, who knows, I could be right.

       'All things considered it was a privilege to meet her. It is not often a Skeksis Lord comes face to face with the truth of the people they rule.

       'May our paths one day cross again, Princess Brea. In another time. In another place.’

       That was where the passage ended. 

       Brea looked up from the journal to where the Scroll-Keeper hovered anxiously nearby, likely repressing the urge to snatch the journal from her hands and bury it under one of the mounds of books that littered the crowded library. 

       “This…really happened?” It was more of a statement than a question. 

       skekOk shuffled closer, wringing his hands. “Yes.” He was almost exasperated- embarrassed he had shared something so personal, “…I never really forgot that day.” He leaned forward, gently taking the book from her. 

       “I never knew…” Brea said, “That’s-“

       She was interrupted by a sudden crash. The two abruptly turned towards the noise. 

       “-Oh, no. Is he telling you about that?” Came the ragged voice of skekLach as she lumbered around a bookshelf, kicking over a small tower of scrolls at her feet.

       “Collector!” skekOk shrieked, waving his talons at her. Skeksis often resorted to titles when they were cross with each other. “Watch where you’re stomping, you blundering fool!”

       skekLach crossed her arms, frowning at him for a brief moment. She made a point to kick over another pile of books, looking rather smug as the poor Scroll-Keeper squawked in protest. Ignoring his complaints, she turned to Brea, “He really paints himself as the hero, huh? Don’t listen to a word out of his crooked beak!” She gave a raspy, snorting laugh.

       “That is enough out of you! Now, to what do we owe this…intrusion?” skekOk demanded, already reaching out to re-stack the books The Collector had knocked down. 

       “I’m here to..ahahuh- collect some important documents for the Lord Chamberlain heheha-“ Her sentence was punctuated with a hacking cough. She wiped her beak on her sleeve and Brea tried not to wince at the trail of slime it left. 

       Quickly shaking off her disgust, the princess hopped down from her chair, trotting over to a nearby shelf and scooping up a few neatly bundled scrolls. She went to hand them over, but just as skekLach reached for them, the princess pulled away.

       “Did you really drop my sister on her head?” 

       The poor Collector looked as though she’d just been hit with a peachberry, but quickly recovered, turning to glower at the Scroll-Keeper, who busied himself tidying the mess of books she had made.

       “Oh, please!” Skeklach rolled her eyes, “He always exaggerates!

       “I do not!” skekOk countered, slamming a book back into place. He turned to Brea, “Ask skekZok! He’ll tell you. He saw the whole thing!”

       “Argh! They both mock me with their stories!” SkekLach growled, “Defamation of character!”

       “Oh, such rubbish!” Said the Scroll-Keeper, “Now take your documents and be on your way!”

       skekLach huffed, snatching the scrolls from Brea and waddling back to wherever she had come from. The princess had to admit she was relieved to see the Skeksis gone. 

       Brea went to help the Scroll-Keeper re-stack the newly devastated piles of books.

       “…Thank you.”

       “Hm?” skekOk craned his neck to look at the princess. She smiled at him.

       “For letting me read your journal! I mean…you’ve seen so many trine- you must have some amazing stories to tell.” It was a leading question. A bit of mischief on her part- she knew he could hardly resist an opportunity to boast of all the wonders he had catalogued over the last thousand trine.

       skekOk looked hesitant, absently scratching his head with a crooked talon. “Well…I suppose I do have some rather exciting tales…”

       “Oh, would you tell me?” Brea asked with a wide-eyed innocence, hardly making an effort to mask her excitement now, “Please?” 

       “Hm…well…I suppose…” As the Scroll-Keeper turned away Brea took the opportunity to bounce happily on her feet.

 

       This was wonderful.