Corin's room in the boarding house was even plainer and smaller than his room at home. A narrow bed had hooks on the wall above it; it would be impossible to open the chest of drawers with anyone sitting on the single chair at the desk. Sturdy well-supported shelves had been anchored to the wall above the desk. A single window let in some light and air, though it looked onto the back area of the house, where he could see long rectangular pots of what were probably kitchen herbs to one side, a waste bin on the other, and an inverted tin tub that was probably for laundry; a similar yard backed onto that one, with its own building, quite possibly another boarding house. The walls of the room had been whitewashed at some point, but were now faintly grey; the curtains and the bedding were faded, but neatly mended and clean.
It didn't matter. He was away from his family, and in a place where curiosity about the world wouldn't be mocked. Finally, after what felt like a lifetime of waiting, he was at the University. He was officially registered as pursuing a diploma in medicine, and had a schedule of lectures to attend. After everything, he was here!
The schedule did, for no sensible reason he could think of, include a fencing lesson, but that was only once a week, and probably there'd be ways around that. If the idea was to encourage physical activity, he could find better ways.
He had some time now before dinner was served in the dining room downstairs, and he knew the University was supposed to have the largest library on the continent. People who wrote books sent copies to the University.
He locked the door behind him and dropped the cord with the key on it around his neck, tucking it under his shirt. If someone really wanted to steal most of his possessions, he didn't care, but he wanted his own books safe.
The rest of the boarding house was rather like his room: everything was carefully mended and meticulously clean but generally showed signs of wear and age. It was comfortable, though, and the widow who ran it was friendly and motherly.
The library was easy to find: it had a great portico with immense fluted columns, several steps up from the level of the street. The double doors to the interior were dwarfed by it, though they were tall enough Corin thought he might barely be able to touch the lintel if he stretched.
Just inside the doors was an entry hall. Painted on the white wall in neat precise black script was a list of rules: no roughhousing, no loud conversation, no food or drinks, no damage to the books of any sort, no removing books from the library, give books to the librarians to reshelve in the correct places.
There are enough books for putting them in the wrong place to be a real problem?
He pulled open the inner doors and went on in anticipation.
Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.
He hadn't imagined that many books had ever been written, let alone all gathered into a single place. His own collection of twenty or so was, he knew, more than most people ever had, but compared to this, it was trivial.
There must be answers in here to everything!
“Hey, bumpkin, quit staring and get out of the way.”
“Sorry,” Corin said distractedly, too enchanted to bother taking offence.
Everything was going to be all right now, surely. For the next few years, he had his own room, and access to all these books, and lectures to feed that hunger to understand the world... and on the other end of it, instead of being Corin Laures, youngest son and perpetual misfit, he'd be Corin Laures, physician. Someone who'd have a future of helping people, could maybe make a difference the way one visit with another physician had saved him, and he'd be independent and respectable and able to do as he pleased.
Someone with a reason to live.
He spotted a large circular desk with two people behind it, and went in that direction. As he approached, the younger of the two looked up from writing something, and smiled. “Looking for something?”
“There has to be a system for organizing all this. How is it done?”
“You're new here this year.” It wasn't really a question, but it wasn't an accusation or an insult either, simply a statement of fact with, if anything, a faint tone of amusement. His accent sounded unlike what Corin was accustomed to, the vowels more rounded, which he realized must be the southerner accent Corin had read about; very dark hair contrasted with skin that probably wasn't exposed to the sun and wind all that much, and he was carrying more weight than Corin's father would have allowed as anything but muscle, but his smile was friendly. “It's all sorted by subject, and then alphabetically by the author's surname.”
“What if it can be in two different categories?”
“Give me an example?”
“The Plague of Mynatt. Would it be history, or would it be medicine? And is history organized by place or by time, and is medicine divided?” He heard himself starting to speed up, and bit his lower lip. “Sorry. I guess I should just go look.”
“It could take you forever to figure out the system empirically.” He glanced over his shoulder at his older companion. “I'm going to go give our new bookworm here the tour in advance.”
The older man nodded absently. “You can warm up for the group version.”
“I can wait,” Corin said quickly.
“It's all right.” The young man came around, through a break in the desk, and out to join him. “It's nice to get up from the desk and move around instead of just answering questions, and I haven't done a group tour in months. In a few days we'll be posting a schedule for regular tours, and it's recommended that everyone get into one so they have some idea what they're doing. The ones who don't, they expect us to find every bloody individual book for them, and we don't always have time. You're planning to spend the next couple of days until lectures officially start trying to read as much as you can, aren't you?”
“Um... probably. I wasn't expecting this many. I don't even know where to start yet.”
“Feast after the famine,” his guide chuckled. “It's pretty amazing, especially for those of us coming from households with only a few books around. There's a reason I work here around lectures, and it isn't just that I need the extra money. Take some advice from a fellow bookworm. Take breaks and get up to stretch, and don't skip meals. The books aren't going anywhere, and you really don't want to go to your first lecture absolutely exhausted with a pounding headache and sore eyes. Trust me in this. So. We're open every day...”
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