The Book Man

This was an idea I got while in editing class, helping out another student figure out what to do with one character, who was stated to have been homeless at one point, but also rather literary. So I suggested the idea of the homeless librarian, who I am now using with my own fantasy coloration. Hope you enjoy!

They called him the Book Man. No one really knew where he came from or who he was – they just knew that he’d show up at random, that big bag of books on his back. They also knew he was the foremost merchant of manuscripts, for he picked up books and dropped off others everywhere he went. A book that was written in the far north would find its way to the deep south with him, or it might travel from the ends of the east to the wide west.

Personally, Gregor Ritter, the young Lord of Gebiet, had no interest in books. Sure, other, weaker, men might like to stay cooped up and read for hours on end, but Gregor was a man of action. He preferred to do practical things, like run his land and train his body for battle. The pen was for men too weak to carry a sword.

That said, Gregor was very surprised when the Book Man appeared at his door late one evening. Gregor was practicing his swordplay in a small courtyard when a servant came to him, announcing that there was a man at the door desiring a place to stay for the night.

“Lead the way,” said Gregor, putting down his weapon and following the servant out.

There, standing in the middle of the atrium was an old man carrying a tall bag on his back with books attached in a myriad of ways. The man was short, and the way he bent low with age didn’t help his stature. However, his grey beard fell almost down to his waist, and his legs appeared thick and strong. He leaned on a staff with both hands and looked up at Gregor as the young lord entered the room.

“Who are you?” Gregor asked. “What is your purpose?”

“I am he who is called the Book Man,” replied the traveler in a surprisingly strong voice. “I was just passing by and, knowing the time, decided to come here in hopes of spending the night.”

Gregor considered the man for a moment. “Very well. You may stay for the night.”

“That’s generous of you.” The Book Man smiled. “Now, I hope you haven’t eaten yet. I haven’t had a meal since this morning, and I’m starving.”

As a matter of fact, Gregor had not yet had supper. So he sent away a servant present to rouse the kitchens and another to bring the traveler’s backpack to one of the guest rooms. He then led the Book Man to the dining room, where they sat down at opposite ends of the long table.

Gregor was used to eating alone. It was most unusual for him to have guests during any meal, even supper. On most occasions when he ate with others, he was the guest at another lord’s home. He had certainly never had a guest of such low standing before, though.

“I take it that you are Lord Gregor Ritter,” said the Book Man, trying to make conversation.

“Yes,” Gregor replied, a bit surprised that the traveler knew his name. “How could you tell?”

“Your coat of arms, and the fact that this yours is the only castle in Gebiet. I’ve read a lot about your country.”

“I presume so. You are, after all, the Book Man.”

“Yes. Now, there wouldn’t happen to be any books you would be interested in, are there? I just picked up an excellent volume of Denken’s Philosophien.”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m not interested in books. I have no time for them.”

“No time? Then whatever do you do with your life?”

“I practice and do actual, practical, physical things. I don’t see what you get out of those books.”

“Well, I don’t see what you get out of your ‘practical’ activities. What do you do, practice fighting? For what? That doesn’t seem very practical if you ask me.”

“Ah, but when a war happens, I’ll be ready to fight in it, and win.”

“It takes more than fighting skills to win. The biggest difference between a great general and a poor one isn’t their skill in combat, but how well read they are. You know, I think I may have a book on military strategy with me…”

Gregor did not reply. Instead, he ran all the famous generals he knew of through his head, and the amount of education each of them had, or probably had. He wasn’t so sure that the Book Man’s statement about them was right – far too many seemed to possess a natural talent. However, a good education never hurt any of them. He caught himself wondering just what was in this book on strategy that the Book Man had with him.

The cooks arrived with supper. Gregor and the Book Man ate in silence. Gregor watched his guest as they munched. The traveler had very refined manners. Had he not known this was the Book Man, Gregor would have expected his guest to snarf down everything on the plate without even noticing the utensils to the side. But the Book Man had his napkin arranged correctly and even toasted his host.

“That you may increase in strength and wisdom all the days of your long life.”

After supper a servant escorted the guest to his chambers for the night. Gregor also retired to his chambers. There, he lay down in bed, contemplating everything that the Book Man had said to him. He was a little angry with the man for contradicting him and his arguments, but he knew he would get over that rather soon. He’d just whack a few dummies and he would be fine.

It occurred to him that the reason that he didn’t read books wasn’t so much that he thought that they were boring, but because his father had never placed any value in them either. He had been raised to prefer the pike to the pen.

The Book Man left early the next morning. The servants made sure he had breakfast, and woke Gregor just in time to send the guest off. The young lord stood in the atrium, bleary-eyed, and waved off the traveler.

“Many thanks for showing me such hospitality,” said the Book Man.

“It was nothing,” replied Gregor. “I just hope you get wherever you’re going safely.”

“Yes. Farewell! Perhaps we shall meet again.”

And then he left. Gregor watched him walk down the road and into the distance. At length, though, he realized one of his servants stood beside him, holding something in his hand. It was a book.

“What’s this?”

“The traveler told me to give this to you,” said the servant. “It’s a book on military strategy.”

“I see.” Gregor took the book, running his hand over its cover. The servant left atrium. When he had gone, Gregor quickly checked to see if anyone was still present. Seeing no one, he opened the book.

Interesting.

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