Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

Title: Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword
Time Period: January 22, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Duncan Rowntree has some queries about literature.

It isn't the nicest part of town. There's been a small rash of sickness through this area, too, young and old both succumbing to the cold perhaps out of malnutrition, although others may blame superstition. A banshee, the black dogs, perhaps a curse. Cruikshank has not offered his services, instead putting up his own wards, and one of them stares Duncan in the face, a complicated token of malleable wood bent in a circle, string caught feathers within it like a web, nailed to the door in the ground-floor apartment room in the boarding house. The hallway is cramped, a little damp, and the sound of a full building is a buzz in the air, footsteps above Duncan's head.

The door opens, Fletcher peering out, before he automatically tightens the gap between door and frame without actually closing the thing. He is, as usual, thin as a stray cat with an unhealthy lankness to his hair, but eyes, skin, mouth all free of any signs of sickness, at least. A rat-tail braid hangs behind his ear, a feather affixed, and a few other adornments around his neck, his wrists.

"Mister Rowntree?"

Even where the ceiling does not demand it, there is something a little stooped about the way Duncan moves, a intimation that he is too big for the space. That he is, perhaps, reducing himself in order to fit.

The ward was considered for some moments before there was any knock on the door. Not for long - it's no enigma for him to puzzle over, but there is a pause, a brief spate long enough for some thought. And then he knocked.

Duncan doesn't confirm the identification. The interrogative twist of his name indicates a question that goes without saying.

"I'd have words with you." Straight to the point.

Fletcher glances back into the room as if to check on what he was doing, which was— at best, medicating. At worst, use your imagination.

"Of course. Come in." He doesn't open the door wider, just leaves it to hang as it is as he disappears back inside. There's a little bit of hurried tidying, although in fairness, his quarters are more cluttered and cramped than actually filthy, but the building itself doesn't permit anything to be very clean. It's dim, plastic sheets on the windows almost ice-like and an attempt to keep out the cold. An armful of clothing is hefted off the sofa and piled onto the floor beside it, a couple of wine glasses collected off a low table and set aside. A book, lying facedown on the floor, nudged aside with a foot.

Duncan closes the door behind him, his wrist bending a little as he tests it. Judges the likelihood of a jam, or a draft. He moves into the space with a centered step that doesn't suggest settling, at least not on the face of it, and he doesn't sit down, rather stands by the sofa next to the space Fletcher has cleared for him . He takes note of the interior with the ordered flick flick flick of his eyes, forming constellation of details that suggests investigation more than exploration. The last detail is the book, which he stoops to pick up, saving it from further furtive adjustment.

The cover is ominous, if one believes in such things. A crow in a desolate road. Duncan turns the book on its side, examining the spine, thumb pressing, testing the material; no expert on binding, but he understands things through his hands, in terms of texture and resistance.

"You are a librarian," he says, glancing up from the book.

"What does that mean?"

There is that ever present defensive twitch that comes along with someone touching your stuff, and living in a society wherein that means it is taken. Cruikshank settles his eyes on it as if waiting for it to simply disappear, and only drags his attention up from it to look at Duncan when he asks that question. Back down, again, at the hardback in the soldier's hands.

"Librarians keep books."

And that may be a little wry, perhaps suggestive of the ones taken, so his hands knot together as he almost nervously adds, "Maintain them, I mean, and allows others to. Learn from them. I've traded and bargained for more as I get on, tried to sort of." His hands go up, gesture vaguely, as if he could fairly round out the concept in mime. "Create and order a library, is what they're called."

Duncan doesn't relinquish the book. Instead he turns to the first page. His brows tic upwards slightly, as he reads the author's name. A king, apparently. But Duncan is unsurprised. He looks back up at Cruikshank, immune to insinuation.

"There were libraries in temples once," Duncan remarks, "in the days of roads." History is understood in a foggy manner in this epoch, and Duncan's mode of speech doesn't lend itself to any greater specificity. "Are you a worshipper of the book, Fletcher Cruikshank?

"Does this," he lifts the open tome in his hands, incidentally exemplary, "inspire reverence in you?"

"They're written by men, sir," Cruikshank says, careful if honest. That would be a no, not exactly. "Dead ones, that is."

He gestures a little, towards the worn out book in the other man's hands. "This one's a story about an end to the world. From before, or after. It isn't a prophecy, and I don't think it was intended to… last. But it has." And that's the best he can do by way of explanation, it seems, fingers lax on his hands and wilting a shrug. "Something chose it to do so."

"Something?" Duncan echoes, with an un-witheld skepticism that's still not scornful - merely dubious. And he doesn't demand clarification. "But that means you think these things are worth preservation. Not just those books that tell us how to mend things, how to build things? It matters to you that this-"

He flips to another page. Reads. Without difficulty.

"Baby, can you dig your man?"

Without proper inflection, the words sound so strange. And what could they possibly mean?

He looks back up at Cruikshank, carrying on a question that appears not to be rhetorical.

"-should survive?"

Cruikshank's hands knot back together, wring a little, as if to stem the urge to steal it back, igniting when it's read from. But he focuses, instead, on considering Duncan's question, as if maybe they were equals. Having a conversation. His fingers relax as he tips his head, the feather attacked to braid curled like an inverse question mark.

"It mattered to someone to write it down," he says, eventually, dragging himself forward a step, into a more friendly kind of distance. "Therefore, yes, it matters to me that it exists still."

"If those words caused harm, would you still keep them?" Duncan presses, and it would seem, indeed, that they are conversing as equals. Duncan is asking all the questions, but someone the tone falls short of interrogation. "If they were dangerous lies- or precious secrets? Is your reverence indiscriminate?"


Of course that gets visible performances of consideration, even if the answer is easy, in Cruikshank's mind. He steers a look at the plastic covered window, the view fairly obscured through the filmy material, catching moisture that the warmth of two bodies generates. "Harmful words is— are a bit like a weapon. They're only that if they're wielded. And in their own way, they're the most important of all." His arms fold around his torso. It's cold, even in here, hence the multitude of blankets about the place, the small iron oven that can be used not just for hooking and heating tea.

This earns a small 'hmh', not quite a grunt of mirth but not a simple affirmative. A digestive sound, really. Food for thought, a certain savoring of an idea.

"Weapons I know. Weapons I keep out of the hands of people who'll misuse them, if by malice or simple stupidity. Weapons need to be kept with care-" and thus, by Fletcher's own analogy…

Point made, Duncan presents yet another question, though this one is far more open. A different breed of question entirely. "What sort of place would you need, to keep books with care?"

There's a rustle, from the corner of the room, which doesn't even have Cruikshank glancing. A magpie, nesting on a high shelf and barely visible save for a stretching flap of a wing, disappearing out of sight again when she settles.

"Somewhere that isn't wet," he says, hands opening, closing. His tone is unassuming, expecting he is simply giving advice on how best Duncan or whoever can maintain the wealth of literature they came upon. "Or too dry, really. Shelves out of the sunlight, and enough of those that they aren't too tightly packed in together. A place that can get cleaned up every so often. Books are good in places that suit people, really."

"Then the books'd best be valuable," Duncan remarks, "as we've too few proper places for the people." And considering where they are at this moment, no further examples are necessary.

He closes the thick book with care - not totally unlike how one might imagine he handles firearms. Weapons both, by some measures. "There is an old maxim. Regarding books, though really regarding people." He intones as one might a psalm or good-book proverb. "Thou shalt not judge a book by its binding. Proof lies between many pages."

The book is offered back to Cruikshank. "Don't presume me ignorant - I won't judge you useless. Prove your use - I'll demonstrate how enlightened I can be."

Not too slowly, Cruikshank closes a step's worth more of distance and takes back the book with a brief smile of thanks, smoothing out the cover that doesn't really need it before hugging it close to his centre of gravity. Dark eyes hold sharper interest than before, head at a cant. "I would only be honoured to prove my usefulness," he says, and there's really nothing that even the most astute person can see or hear to detect insincerity. Maybe Fletcher really would like to please the Rowntrees.

Or whatever goes along with doing so. "Me and books both, I suppose."

"Then you've at least an alliance," Duncan says. And that, apparently, is all. A brief dip of his head indicates farewell - it must, since he turns to go, drawing open the door before ducking under the loom of the doorframe, out into the hall.