"We can stay here," I said.
"Excellent!" said the king, selecting some picture books for Mia. "Please, make yourself comfortable. Feel free to look at what you like."
The books on the shelves were impressive. These weren't the flimsy paperbacks or jacketed hardcovers like at school, these were real book. These were the kinds of books I'd pretended to have when I was little. Thick leather bound ones with gold inlays and pages that smelled like old. I picked one that looked particularly impressive and opened it up, wondering if it would even be in English.
It wasn't, but I looked through it anyways because there were pictures. Weird, stylized pictures like the artist didn't really know how to draw people, cats, or snails-- which were all inexplicably in a garden together. My eyes eased over the strange, foreign script, much of which didn't even look like the same alphabet as English, and as I did, I began to feel oddly relaxed.
The woman was a fairy, I knew. She was in love with a human, but her mother disapproved and turned him into a cat. I smelled the flowers from the garden, and felt a cool breeze come from the hills. I heard an old woman's voice in my ear speaking. The voice was quiet at first, but the more I looked through the words, the stronger it became. A young woman's voice began to speak as well, arguing against the old woman, and I knew it was the fairy lady making a case for her boyfriend.
"Are you okay?" Mia said, snapping me out of it.
I blinked. The voices were gone, as was the smell of the garden and the breeze.
"Are these books magic?" I asked the king.
He gave me a confused look from his spot on one of the sofas. "Yeah, most of them," he said. "Isn't that why you wanted to see them?"
"I just thought they looked cool."
"Oh. Ha! Yeah, they look cool too, but most of them are magic. You can still look at them Though! All the dangerous ones are locked up. here, lemme go get my favorites."
He got up from the couch and hurried to the wall of shelves. Without hesitation, he picked several books out, seemingly at random, and dropped them onto the couch. Then he went back for more, this time using the ladder to get to the next layer. Then he repeated the process again and again, each time visiting some other part of the library.
"Go ahead and start poking through them," he called. "You don't need to wait for me."
So I did.
I don't know how long we spent looking through the books. It was intoxicating.
I was a sailor, and I could taste the salt in the air and feel the spray of ocean on my skin.
I was an adventurer making my way through some untamed land, feeling the brambles snag onto my clothes and feeling the ache of an old war wound in my side.
I was a peasant in ancient Rome, and I felt the sun on my shoulders out in the field--
And on and on. Like the first book, the words weren't actually in English, but that didn't matter. At some point, I woke up enough to notice that the Raven King had stopped bringing over books and was alternately reading some of his own, or watching me and Mia read ours. Whenever he noticed me looking, he'd nod and smile and ask how I liked it.
"It's great," I'd say before diving back in.
I would have been content to look through the books all night, but out of nowhere, Mia said, "I'm done now. Let's play hide and seek."
I blinked myself awake, trying to remember that I was not a Russian hero on the hunt for a bird made of fire. "What?"
"The castle is big enough. Let's play hide and seek."
The king rubbed his eyes. Like me, he had been intent on his book. "What's that?" he said.
"Hide and seek?" Mia said.
"Yeah. What is it?"
Mia and I stared.
Well, I guess he doesn't have anyone else around here to teach him. . .
"It's when everyone hides, and one person needs to find them," I said.
"And the way we play, anyone who gets found has to help look for the other people, so it gets harder as you go."
"That sounds like fun!" the king said. "Can I hide?"
"Normally we rock-paper-scissors for it," Mia said. "But yeah. You can hide."
Me and Mia did paper scissors rock properly to see who the seeker would be. The king watched, baffled, and so we had to explain the rules to him. Then he insisted on playing paper scissors rock a few times, which we obliged.
"I'm learning so much today," he said.
That settled, Mia closed her eyes and started counting.
I debated hiding in the library, but she had said that the entire castle would be good for hiding, and there wasn't a rule about it anyway, so I hurried as quietly as I could to the doors. The Raven King followed quietly behind me.
"Out in the hallway, I whispered to him, "We should split up. Find someplace to hide-- but make sure it's a place she can get to," I said, realizing the king might decide to fly onto the roof or something.
"Right!" he said. "I'll try."
He went one way, and I went the other and picked a door down some hallway the king hadn't showed us yet.
The room was full of. . . stuff. Junk. Some of it was spilling over the tops of over-stuffed boxes and crates, and some of it was just piled up. There was so much of it that I could only take it in in pieces. A pile of aluminum cans, some crunched up or shredded, some not. A cardboard box that looked like it was going to tear at the sides under the weight of the brass and silver doorknobs that filled it. Wrappers, so many, many, many shiny wrappers from candy bars and chips and other things. Nails. Screws. Buttons-- lot of buttons. An old chest that looked like it belonged on the deck of a pirate ship and was filled with loose change, and the chest itself was half-buried in a mound of random metal scraps that might have been car parts and might not have.
The junk filled the entire center of the room. I would have gone in further to look at the stuff in the center, but I was afraid I'd catch tetanus just by looking at it all for too long. Instead, I sat down in the corner and tried to think stealthy thoughts.
I don't know how long it was later-- it felt like a while, but I might have just been bored-- that I heard the king and Mia outside the door. I was already getting creakily to my feet when the Raven King poked his head in and saw me.
"There you are!" the king said. "I thought you might find this place."
"Raven King is next It," Mia said.
"What's all this stuff for?" I said.
He laughed. "It's treasure! It just sits around looking shiny."
I eyed the piles of garbage. It was true; a lot of it was shiny.
"It's very nice," I said dutifully.
The Raven King beamed.
Then it was his turn to count while Mia and I hid. Mia went down the hall, back towards the throne room, but I ran back into the library.
I thought I might be able to hide beneath one of the desks, but the backing of them didn't cover me, so I ran around frantically looking for somewhere less obvious.
Something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye, some irregularity in the shelves. When I looked straight in, there was nothing out of the ordinary, but if I focused on something else, I could see it. There was a small door tucked away in the corner-- I hadn't noticed it there at all earlier. I went to it, looking at it and looking away to keep track of where it was, and it was only when I actually had my hand on it that the spell was broken, and I could see it clearly. It was a small door, completely plain, kind of old looking, and with a heavy iron handle that was unlocked when I tried it.
I almost left. The door was clearly meant to keep people out, and I would have gone on somewhere else, but I heard the library doors creak open and panicked. I snuck through the little door and tried to close it softly behind me.
The door led to a small stairway going down. I pressed my ear to the door and heard someone shuffling above-- but only one person. The king hadn't found Mia yet, and if he found me, I'd be it next. Quickly and as quietly as I could, I followed the stars down, hoping he wouldn't be able to hear my footsteps.
At the bottom of the steps, I found the dangerous books the king had mentioned.
It was more of a large closet than a library, with maybe a few dozen books total, most of which ere sitting on a little table in the center of the room. A few of the books were in cages off to the side of the room, as though they were animals and not paper. Of the ones on the table, a majority were chained closed, or had giant locks on them. A couple were hovering above the rest in strange looking bubbles I had to assume were made of magic.
One book was not chained up or caged, or guarded in any way. I looked at it for a moment, trying to see its title without actually touching it.
Book of Perspective, it said.
And that didn't sound so bad at all. Not like it was Book of Disintegration or Book of Catching in Fire. Tentatively, I cracked open the cover.
And then suddenly, there was a woosh and a loud thunk as my body fell down, toppling over the table and books, and then there was me, on the ground next to my body.
If I'd still been in my body, I probably would have panicked. But I was a book. The knowledge came to me the way you know how to stand upright. I was a book, and books didn't have adrenaline or glands or any of that pesky human nonsense that made humans panic.
So I sat calmly inside the book, being a book.
I was book for some amount of time. I don't know how long, because books don't know time.
But eventually, the king came down the stairs and saw what had happened. He looked upset. Then Mia was there, and she looked upset too. They spoke, but books don't know how to be interested in things, either, and so I didn't much pay attention.
"I have to find out which one it was," the king was saying. "Once I do, I'll be able to put him back."
"I can't go back without him!" Mia said. "Is he going to be a book forever?!"
"No!" said the king. "No, no-- I can fix it. I just-- I just need some time." He scratched his head and looked at my body. "You should go home. I'll figure out how to put him back and drop him off later."
They kept on after that, with Mia demanding to help, and the king eventually persuading her to go home to make sure our mother didn't worry.
I barely noticed.
I barely noticed when the king returned and dragged my body to the wall where it could lie less awkwardly.
"I'm really sorry about this," the king said. "I'll get you back, I swear."
Then he looked at the piles of books on the ground and sighed.
But I didn't care, because I was a book.
You spent the rest of the night and part of the next day as a book!