It was one of these forbidden books her father has never allowed her even to touch, let alone read. Not that they were naughty or inappropriate, far from it. They were simply dangerous or so he said. Lil never understood that: how a work of fiction could be dangerous? Did it have teeth to bite you or claws to maul you like a wild animal? Anyway, if these books were truly, really as dangerous as her father claimed why he kept and treasured them so much? Shouldn’t he have destroyed them long time ago, before he settled down, took a wife and had children?
The temptation to solve that mystery was like a burning piece of charcoal inside her – sometimes barely felt, sometimes hot and uncomfortable, almost painful, but always present inside, always gnawing at her. When her father had to go away to help a friend with some weird problem she decided it was the right time to satiate her hunger. At last. Of course her father had asked her not to go inside his secret library time and again and yes, she had promised that much with the most solemn face and downcast eyes but deep inside she knew what would happen, despite her shame and pangs of conscience. After all she tried so hard to be a good, dutiful daughter most of the time. One lapse from the straight and narrow wasn’t that bad, was it?
The very next day she accosted a stable boy named Mark who used to be a burglar. She told him in no uncertain terms that she would reveal some of his other crimes she was in the know about, crimes comitted by him already under her father’s roof, if he didn’t help her breaking and entering the secret library. Blackmail – an ugly word indeed but she didn’t care. Mark was a bit sullen at first, then he looked at her thoughtfully and agreed to pick the right lock for her and keep mum about it as long as she did the same.
Right after the dinner they met at the library’s door. Mark had the tools of his trade with him and Lil brought some candles and a bottle of wine as he had asked. He took a swig and start working on the lock in complete silence. It was drudgery. After two hours of frantic efforts and swearing he managed to open the door without destroying the lock but he was covered in sweat and rather uneasy. Finally he addressed her for the first time:
“Listen, little Miss…”
“That’s Miss Lilian or mistress Lilian for you, Mark. Do not presume upon my goodwill,” she interrupted coldly. How dared he. It was true she was the youngest child in the family but she was also of age and he was barely two years older. Nobody called her “little Miss”, her childhood moniker, anymore. Jerk.
Mark smirked but corrected himself instantly:
“I beg you pardon, Miss Lilian, my lady and mistress. Please, don’t be offended, no harm meant. I just wanted to say that t’was the most difficult job I’ve ever done. Ever. Cross my heart. I’m still surprised I actually managed to open these damned door for you at all. One thing’s certain – if anybody got such a lock for a door they sure as hell meant the door to remain closed, no matter what. You’re a clever, nice girl, Miss, even if a bit sneaky and ruthless…and of course too curious for your own good…”
“Your point being?”
“Don’t enter this room. Leave it be.”
She was quiet for a moment, too stunned to find the right answer. This little ex-burglar and criminal, her father’s stable boy for goodness’ sake, had the cheek to tell her what to do. Her anger started burning inside her and finally she found the right words which were, in her opinion, worth of a lady.
“Thank you for this piece of advice, Mark, you can go now.”
He narrowed his eyes leaning against the wall as if too tired to stand straight.
“You will enter, no matter what, won’t you, Miss?”
“Sorry but I see I must be quite blunt with you, my lad. I don’t need you, make yourself scarce. Here, take the bottle, it’s almost full, and go, be merry with your friends.”
“Miss Lilian, please…”
She turned and etnered the library, closing the door firmly behind her although his voice sent a shiver down her spine. He sounded as if he really cared. Honestly…what was he thinking, pleading whith her so much? The room was dark but she managed to notice walls lined with countless books. Some of them lay on the floor like scattered leaves. She took the first book she could grab. It was late, the lock-picking job took much longer than she’d anticipated and her candle was flickering – soon she won’t have any source of light. She opened the book and a warm, golden glow shone out of it. She gasped, totally surprised. Are books supposed to glow in the dark on their own? The light was pretty, enticing, making her more confident. She wouldn’t need a candle anymore.
Lilian giggled with pleasure and started reading. It was a novel set in an enchanted fairy forest and all of a sudden she not only read about that place but also was in a forest – a real one. She was sitting on soft, thick grass under a high, old beech. And she couldn’t stop reading.