With a start of realization, the serpent came to a stop in a great cavernous cave. And hundreds of people, ourselves included, disgorged from the beast.
As we walked from the great building, we passed a youth sitting on the steps playing some sort of lute as wandering minstrels are wont to do. The song that he played had no words, or least he did not sing them, but I paused for a moment to better hear the refrain. His face was pointed sharp and his hair was russet as the clever fox. As I threw a florin into his hat, for the song was pleasing, he looked up at me. "Thanks.” And after a moment, "Hey, Giles.”
"Goodness, well this is certainly a surprise,” said Giles. He turned to me, "This is Oz, and actually I don’t know your last name.”
"Oz is fine,” said Oz. He pulled the florin out of the hat and examined it.
"Yes, well, Oz this is Dante Aligheri and his guide Publius Vergilius Maro. Dante, Vergilius Maro, Oz. So, Oz, when did you get to England? Where are you living? And if I may say excellent mastery of the diminished 9th chord E-flat.”
"It’s coming. I’m staying in an abandoned house in Hampstead near Willesden.”
"Good Lord. I lived in the same area 20 years ago. I wonder if it’s the same flop?”
"It’s pretty old,” said Oz, gazing at us with eyes that said nothing of his thoughts. "So, where you headed?”
"There are some books that I need at the Watcher headquarters so I can help get these gentlemen home. As you may have gathered from their attire, they aren’t from around here.”
"Hmmm…other Gileses. Can I tag along?” Oz put his lute away in a battered black case with efficient snaps and clicks.
"Under the circumstances,” said Giles, "why not? The more, the merrier.”
"That’s us. Merry men,” said Oz.
My Master seemed quite pleased with the idea and gestured to me briefly. "You have, of course, heard of the Garwaf that in the old days, people used to say lived in the woods. A Garwaf is a savage beast and while his fury is on him, he eats men and does much harm.” My master paused as one who waits for the other brick roof tile to drop, "Well my son, Oz is a Bisclavret(86).”
Looking at Oz with his foxish face, I could believe it and our shoulders and bellies shook with laughter.
Oz’s puckered his brow as does the chandler eyeing his sleeping apprentice, "I think I missed something.”
"Medieval werewolf joke. It’s a long story involving regional prejudices. Well, actually literally, it’s a short story, in verse,” said Giles, who walked down the street in the sweet spring air, which if anything seemed brighter and warmer than it had before.
"Oh. Cool” said Oz. "Can you dance to it?”
"Yes.” I said, "But not well. It does not have much of a beat.”
The light reflected off of the lenses on Giles’ face, making them seem to glow. "This is very disturbing. That man is wearing short sleeves. It isn’t even really spring yet. The weather should be miserable.”
I did not quite see why I should wish it to be so and walked on in silence. We strolled through an area, which Giles said was called Bayswater, although I saw neither a bay, nor water. I did see a fine rose garden, filled with red, yellow, and white blooms, which perfumed the air. The flowers seemed to disturb Giles, so we walked all the faster.
Finally, we came to a great white building with a red marble door.
Giles first, then I, then Oz, then my Master walked through the door into a grand black marble hall. There was a woman at a desk with a great book before her. Giles went and wrote our names in the book.
Just then a thick set man, built like a dog set to hunting bears, came into the room, he was soon followed by a number of men in black, much like those who had served Lilah, only English. The man said, "I don’t believe that I authorized any guests.”
Giles straightened his shoulders as does the experienced soldier before rushing down the hill to meet the enemy. "Quentin, I left three messages with your secretary. I even sent you an email. Given your lack of response, I have come, as is my right as a Watcher, to check out some reference material from the Library.”
"We cannot allow supernatural beings to use our library as they will. It is for Watchers. And particularly not damned souls.” He pointed at my Master. "Or for that matter street musicians. Although, I suppose I couldn’t expect any better from you.”
Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them with a cloth, "Perhaps, under the circumstances, I should invoke Buffy, but that might be overkill. I think Quentin that you will find that where will and power are one that you won’t have much choice.”
My Master paused and held up his hand, "Let me handle this. He went to stand before Quentin and said, "We are not the men that you are looking for.”
"You are not the men that we are looking for,” said Quentin.
"We belong here,” said my Master.
"You belong here,” said Quentin.
"Now move along.” said my Master.
"Now move along.” said Quentin, who turned around and he and his men left the hallway.
"Good Lord!” said Giles, "That was quite extraordinary.”
"Yes, that was pretty much of the cool,” said Oz.
Puzzled at this heretofore unexampled ability, I turned to my Liege and said, "Why didn’t you do that earlier with Lilah? Or earlier still at the Gates of Dis?”
"Until our discussion this very day, I did not know that I could do it.” said my Master quite simply.
And so we followed Giles up the winding stairs and down a hall, until we came to a great oaken door, black with age, which Giles opened.
As the door opened, there was a sweet breeze and my senses were overwhelmed for before me stood the greatest library that I had ever seen.
The air trembled with stillness and yet at the same time there was a whisper. The rich sound of turning pages. The basso of velum. The crackling tenor of papyrus as it unscrolls. The soft soprano of curling rag paper. And the alto notes of some paper that seemed to be made entirely of pulped wood.
I was overwhelmed with scents that were rich with the smell of old leather and ink and paper and dust. It was a smell that I could taste and chew in my mouth. Like thick black tea leaves, with a hint of honey sweetness.
I ran my fingers down the spines of a nearby row of books. Spines cracked with age. Rough beneath my fingers. Or of soft and supple leather or cracked paper or even books bound in wood. Their spines smooth with varnish.
The walls stretched up and up, until my eyes could no longer see and yet there was no end to the books. We stood at the foot of some sort of gleaming wooden scaffolding that stretched up and around the great room. I would say around the room, for I have no better words to express the size of this room, which seemed beyond human compression. From the corner of my eye, it appeared that the edge of the room was merely a curve in the maze to new stacks of shelving and books and scaffolding.
How little and trite seems a man’s mind in comparison with this, surely the sum of all that is known and much of that which has been forgotten.
"Amazing isn’t it?” said Giles. "How could anything ever replace this?”
And just then by some trick, I saw it. Lying face up on a gleaming wooden table. Loosely bound in red leather, crisp pages of yellow velum, bound in a white ribbon, which I untied as I opened the book. And in a low voice, I read aloud the first line that I saw there, " Halfway through the journey of our lives, I came to myself in a dark wood and found that the true way was lost."(87)