The Old Library really is a hidden jewel in the crown of Old College. Situated at the top of a tucked away tower in the very oldest part of College, it is reached by a spindly spiral staircase that forever appears to be on the point of collapse. Access to the Old Library is strictly prohibited to the students and quietly discouraged to even The Fellowship. It is no wonder. There are things in here not meant for idle consumption.
It was the unfortunate Professor K who first brought the importance of this place to my attention, although I first came to see it during Junior Bursar’s guided tour of College. I knew even then that it would be an important place, somehow. Although it is loftily located, within that room lies the very foundations of Old College, the very things that it was built upon. But, unlike the Crypt, there is an ancient vitality that still surges through the dusty air. If not the very heart of College, the Old Library is certainly the keeper of its soul.
Professor Duke is bustling behind me on the staircase, seemingly oblivious to its ominous creaks and quivers. They are very much at the forefront of my mind, unfortunately, meaning that my footing is not as sure as it might be.
“If you could hurry a bit faster—that’d be awesome,” chatters the Professor “I’m quite eager to see this place with both eyes.”
“Alright, alright” I reply, trembling hands clumsily searching through an elderly bunch of keys. “I just need to find the right one. The lock’s a bit sticky, actually.”
Like many of the doors in the oldest part of College, this one requires a near-balletic series of manoeuvres to persuade it to open. A complex and precise choreography of jiggles and shoves brings a satisfying click! from the lock and we enter, stepping carefully on the bowed and warped oaken floor.
The Professor wears the familiar expression of one laying eyes on the Old Library for the first time. In truth, there is nothing especially breathtaking about the functional and austere bookcases and reading tables. They are old, but unremarkable. The books themselves have certainly seen better days. Spines and bindings wear their years with a solemn dignity yet at first glance are disappointingly plain. It is the ether within these walls that is so intoxicating.
There are some rather special things in here, it should be said. In a heavy glass case is displayed a first edition copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Many of the medical tomes are bestowed with some of the finest illustrations I have ever seen and closer inspection reveals bookcases resplendent with curious and unusual volumes.
“Well I say,” the Professor says, his voice dripping with wonder. “There is certainly something incredible about this place.”
“It is my absolute favourite part of Old College,” I reply. “Sometimes I bring a cup of tea up here and just… sit.”
“Aha! That sounds nice. But we have no time to sit about right now. What is it we came to see?”
“It’s over here,” I motion to the Professor to follow me as I head towards the far end of the Library and the chest that holds the records of the Order of the Lesser Dragon, mysterious founders of Old College.
The chest is chained to the floorboards for some inexplicable reason. The chest itself is unsecured so it offers no protection to its pertinent contents. This little conundrum must be pondered another time, however, as we have far more important tasks at hand.
We find the slightly menacing-looking tome just where I had left it, the elderly lucubration seemingly untouched since my last visit. The Professor helps me heave the weighty volume onto a nearby reading desk and we sit down together to peruse the parchment pages.
Written as it is in olde English, the records of the Order of the Lesser Dragon are no light reading. A good deal of it is incomprehensible to either of us, although several glimmers of interesting information do make themselves apparent. Rather unfortunately, both Professor Duke and my good self are creatures prone to distraction and quite some time is whiled away admiring obscure illustrations and darkly beautiful turns of phrase. It is an uncommonly pleasant way to pass the time and the stars are soon watching us through the windows.
Eyes sore and stomachs desperately in need of urgent attention, we decide that we have scraped together substantial snippets to further our search. It has become quite apparent to us that the Order of the Lesser Dragon were a rogue faction of the Knights Templar, splitting off to dedicate their endeavours towards academic furtherance whilst their erstwhile brethren went about the altogether more heroic business of crusading. I expect they were not the sword-wielding types.
“Well, it seems for certain that the Grail was once held at Old College,” says the Professor, rubbing his eyes. “But then, rats, it was moved!”
“Yes, if I am reading it right it was hidden in some sort of cave,” I say, speaking more loudly than is necessary in an attempt to camouflage a gastric grumbling. “A secret meeting place of the Templars, it seems. From the diagrams it would appear to be situated just outside The City.”
“Do you suppose that—if we look hardly hard—we can find it?” The Professor asks. I nod.
“I don’t see why not,” I reply. “If it’s still there, at least. It’s not too far, we could go and have a look.”
“Fantastic! We can go take a look tomorrow before the feast. Then, I can present the Grail to The Master at the most dramatic point of proceedings. But now, will you join me for dinner?”
“I would love to, Professor” I reply. “But, as a Fellow of College, near as can be, you have to eat at High Table and I have to take my place in the servants’ seats.”
“Oh, how horrid and dull!” cries Professor Duke. “If that’s the way they are about things, we shall take our food and eat it out on the bridge. See how they like that! Besides, bridges are rather interesting to eat on. All that creaking and stuff.”
Well, I can hardly argue with a member of The Fellowship. Barely able to keep pace, I follow the Professor out into the evening air and onwards to the Dining Room.
But in a place unseen, a careful eye is watching. A restless mind is making dark assessments. When fools pursue the callings of the righteous, tragedy can be the only victor. A bauble to impress The Master is what they seek, a quest for their own vanity and ignorance.
I will not suffer fools.
They will be stopped.