“I found a way down.” Michel yelled over to the others.
The others had huddled around Arya. She was awake but in a lot of pain. Everyone spoke excitedly.
“I think one of my ribs is broken.” Arya rasped.
“You’ll be lucky if that’s all that he did.” Katniss said.
“Nice shooting.” Arya smiled.
“You’re the one who did the damage. I missed.”
“You didn’t miss. You got his arm. It provided me with just the right distraction.”
“I was aiming for his temple!” Katniss laughed.
“It was nice to see you with your bow.” The excess nervous energy was making Binny’s smile wider than usual. “Nice scavenging.”
“And you too Binny. I can’t believe you did that?” Arya was having trouble getting the words out, but she was so pleased with her victory that she didn’t want to stop talking.
“What, how I threw my body at him so he could thump me? I can’t believe I did that either.” Binny laughed. “But I think I got away luckier than you did.”
“Enough chitchat, we need to find help for Arya. This adventure has been quite exciting, but it’s time to act more grown up.”
Binny bit her tongue, as she agreed that Arya needed attention.
“Did you hear me? I found a path down to the beach.” Michel insisted.
“Can you make it?” Katniss said.
“I may need some help.” Arya said.
“Let’s hurry. I don’t want any more stray fighters coming over here to try and kill us if no one minds.” Hermione said.
Hermione and Michel helped Arya down the narrow path that hugged the side of the cliff. They had to walk sideways as the path was too narrow for them to fit across. The path had been well camouflaged by some scrub at the edge of the cliff.
Katniss and Binny followed behind.
“You’ve led us on quite the interesting adventure today.” Katniss smiled gently.
“You mean by almost getting us killed several times?”
Binny smiled too.
The beach was all rocks, and crashing waves. Everyone tried not to get too wet, but it was hard to avoid entirely.
“So what’s your plan now?” Hermione asked. “Arya’s tired. I don’t know how much longer she can go. We need to get her back home.”
“I know.” Binny said. “I’m hoping if we go far enough it will get us around the fighting and we can continue on to whatever we’re being kept from.”
“Being kept from? Are you kidding? You still believe they’re hiding something from us?”
“I think that’s why they call them the Keepers.” Binny said resolutely.
“They call them the Keepers, because they keep the Stacks organized and running.” Hermione said as if that was the last word on the topic.
Binny took a deep breath. “They call them the Keepers, because they’re keeping us from the truth.”
“Let us stop for a moment and rest.” Michel suggested.
“I think that’s a good idea.” Katniss agreed.
“We’re gonna get soaked here.” Hermione said.
“I think there may be a dry spot up ahead.” Michel pointed.
Binny followed his finger and saw a hole at the base of the cliff. It looked just big enough for them to fit through.
It turned out that the hole led to a cave. And the cave was dry. Binny imagined that as the tide came in the entrance to the cave, and possibly the entire cave, would fill with water, but she tried not to think about that for the moment.
The deeper they ventured, the more the cave widened. But strangely it didn’t get darker. Binny didn’t realize it at first, but in fact it was getting lighter. And the light was flickering as if from a fire. They rounded the corner.
“I’ve been expecting you.”
There was a fire. A big one. Crackling in the cave producing light and heat but no smoke. Behind it stood a man. A wild man. His white hair was long. His beard stuck out in all directions. He looked like hadn’t showered in who knew how long. Binny thought he might be crazy but his eyes were lucid and clear.
The man spoke again. “Your friend is hurt. Set her down”
Beyond the fire the man had a makeshift bed, some shelves with small artifacts, and beyond that, books. Many many books. There were a couple of small bookcases, but the books went beyond what would fit there. Binny looked closer and realized two things… Firstly, there were no actual bookcases. Those were in fact made of books as well. Second, the cave continued as a tunnel beyond the point she could see. And all of it was lined with more books.
“Can you help her?” Katniss asked the old man.
“Can I? Ask your friend here.” The man motioned to Hermione.
Everyone looked at Hermione wondering why he was singling her out.
For her part, Hermione was looking increasingly uncomfortable.
“How would you know what he can do?” Binny asked Hermione pointedly.
“Hermione?” Katniss pressed.
“He can’t help her.” Hermione finally said, defeated.
“How would you know?” Binny asked.
“Because I know who he is.”
“Who are you?” Binny turned to the man.
“My name is Myrddin. But you probably know me as Merlin.”
“I just want to make sure I understand our situation. We’ve found the most powerful wizard in the history of literature, and he can’t do anything to help our friend.” Katniss said.
“You know we can’t do magic here.” Hermione said.
“Doesn’t that bother you?” Binny said acidly.
“Yes Hermione. Why doesn’t that bother you?” Merlin said.
Binny was surprised by her unexpected ally in her argument with Hermione. Nobody said anything for a few seconds. Arya was resting, dozing fitfully on the bed.
“I’m sure the rules were put in place for a good reason.” Hermione said.
Michel sidled up to Binny. “This is your chance to ask your question.”
It took Binny a moment to understand what Michel was saying, but then it clicked. Merlin was an older character. Actually, so was Hector if he was from ancient Greek literature. In fact, everyone they’d met after they’d made it through the Doldrums was an older character, here from before Michel came the first time.
“Merlin? Why were the rules put in place.” Binny asked.
“The magic I used to do, you could fill volumes with it.” Merlin paused. “In fact, volumes are filled with it.” Merlin motioned to the books that filled his cave. “Beautiful magic. Angry magic. I was particularly good at disguises mind you.” Merlin sounded wistful. “And your friend here? I could fix her in no time. But those days are long gone. Magic is gone from this place.”
Merlin stopped talking. Binny was about to ask her question again, but Merlin seemed to remember that he hadn’t answered her yet. “Oh, yes. Why. Why indeed. I’m afraid I can’t tell you. I knew at one point. But it doesn’t seem important now.”
“It’s not important.” Hermione interrupted. “This whole thing isn’t important. What if the Keepers aren’t keeping us from anything?”
“We’re slaves here Hermione. We can do almost anything, except nothing matters. We live forever, but we’re dying every day. Up above us people are literally dying every single day, only to get up and do it all over again.” Binny’s face reddened.
“Let’s say you’re right. Let’s say this place is horrible. Let’s say this is a prison. What makes you think you can do anything about it? Maybe it’s not the Keepers who are keeping things this way. Maybe it’s just physics. Like gravity. When you’re here, these are the rules, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe just accepting reality, and making the best of it is the only choice we have? Have you considered that!?” Hermione was shouting now.
Binny didn’t take her eyes off Hermione for even a second. Everyone else was watching the exchange with baited breath. Even Merlin.
“I have considered it Hermione. And I’m sure there were plenty of people who accepted gravity until someone came along and invented flight, and then space travel. Don’t you see Hermione? Change only comes from people who refuse to accept the way things are.”
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Michel paused and then added quietly, “George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman.”
Binny smiled broadly. “I love that.”
“You’re unreasonable alright.” Hermione muttered, but the tension in the cave had been broken.
Arya coughed, and everyone focused on her plight again.
“What happens if we can’t get her help? You can’t really die here right.” Binny worried.
“Right. But she’s gonna suffer until tomorrow morning when she gets sucked into her book again. After all that she’ll come out good as new.” Katniss explained.
Binny made a face. She felt bad that Arya had gotten hurt defending them. Arya felt hot to the touch now, even though the cave was cool.
“Merlin, there must be some way to do magic in the Stacks and heal Arya. Isn’t there?”
“Some way?” Merlin repeated. “No. But there may be a somewhere.”
“There’s a place here where you can perform magic? We could heal Arya there. Where is it?” Binny asked eagerly.
Merlin responded in the most gentle tone he’d used since they’d entered his cave, “I don’t know myself, but I think I can point you to someone who does.”