"A library doesn't just up and walk away," the short, stumpy dwarf grumbled.
Stubby fingers removed oval specs from his plump, gnarled nose, wiped the thick glass against his cloak, and then placed them promptly back into place.
"Dear, me," he muttered as he blinked through his specs. The view had not gotten any better.
The surrounding ancient forest, thick with grizzly birch trees and viny oaks, had become considerably darker in the rapidly approaching night. There was no moon nor even a twinkling star to light the formidable darkness. And what was worse, there were no signs of his library–the library that had been there for hundreds of years–the library the dwarf had opened himself.
"Well..." he said, liking the sound of his own voice as opposed to the rising voices of the night creatures. "There's naught much else to do but to have tea."
With aged hands that were just as accustomed to repairing tattered books as brewing strong tea, he dug into his satchel. He pushed past volumes of literature called "Wild Jackalows and Where to Find Them," "The Art of Wore: A Comprehensive Guide to Fashion," "Libraries and Their Ancient Keepers," and stacks of countless other books that shouldn't fit in a satchel the size of a cat. Still, of course, that is the magic of an ancient librarian in a mystical forest.
In three swipes of a page, the old librarian had a fire started, a pot of tea brewing, tea cups placed on a side table, and his feet propped up on a velvet poof while he lounged on an ornate settee--all of which he had retrieved from his satchel. (Not the fire, of course. He started that with flint stones).
No thoughts were made, nor was another word said until the librarian took his first sip of thick, black tea.
Then with a deep sigh, he began to backtrack. "I walked here," he said, motioning with his free hand to the spot he sat. "And the library was there," he pointed to a large grizzly birch which was as wide as two mountain bears standing side by side and as tall as a small mountain. Out of the corner of a passerby's eye, it could have looked like a giant grizzly (hence its name). The bark rippled like a bear's thick skin and was grooved with large round scales that looked like tufts of bear fur.
“I am no library,” a deep voice boomed and the leaves of the grizzly birch tree shuddered violently.
The librarian jumped.
It should be noted here that not one drop of tea was spilled. Aged hands accustomed to holding countless cups of tea over priceless books and artifacts could never let that happen. No, not even a thundering tree could make the librarian drop his tea.
“Well, obviously not,” the librarian said, squinting through his spectacles. His old eyes probed the shadows beyond the grizzly tree, but the darkness would not betray the talking, thundering, unsettling newcomer.
“Come, have some tea then if you’re not a library,” the dwarf said.
“I don’t drink tea. Tea is made of leaves,” the voice boomed. “AND I’M NOT A LIBRARY. LIBRARIES HOUSE DEAD TREES.” The last words sounded like thunderclaps.
Shaken in every sense of the word, the librarian placed his teacup on the side table where it rattled.
When all returned to calm, (or as calm as it could be in the presence of a thundering tree) the librarian fished his specs from his thick, white beard and set them back on his gnarled nose. “Well…of course you’re not a library,” he replied with a note of understanding that only a curious librarian would use while talking to a grizzly birch in a dark, creepy forest. “You’re a tree, aren’t you? I mean, you’re the one that is talking?”
The tree shuddered and then it twisted. Its dark rippling bark folded and stretched like a dish towel that was slowly being wrung.
When it stopped, the bark around its middle cracked, and giant eyes the size of small glowing moons blinked open, piercing the librarian with a glare.
A protrusion in the bark beneath the tree’s eyes parted and a pair of lips moved, “I had awoken from my slumber to find my cousins and my sisters had been taken! TAKEN!”
A gust of wind blew from the tree’s mouth and a glob of sap flew like spittle from its lips, slopping onto the ground just before the tea kettle and fire.
“Oh dear,” the dwarf murmured.
“And so…I ate your library.”
The dwarf stared at him, stunned to silence. Finally, he said, “I didn’t know trees eat libraries.” He pulled out a journal and a feather quill from his small, voluminous bag and began jotting down notes.
“STOP WRITING ON MY SIBLINGS!”
The dwarf ceased immediately and stared at the angry birch. “I apologize, but this is very interesting indeed. Who told you that books are dead trees?”
The birch raised itself up in height.
The dwarf, despite himself, placed a hand on his teacup in preparation for another bone-shaking response.
None came. Instead, thick roots snaked up from beneath his chair and wrapped around his waist.
“Librarians eat us, we must eat librarians,” the grizzly birch rumbled.
“It sounds fair, but first, you must prove to me that books are, in fact, dead trees,” the librarian replied.
The grizzly birch ignored him, however, and lifted the dwarf up from his chair and brought him to dangle over its opened mouth. From his vantage point, the librarian saw with increasing alarm that it was a bottomless black hole.
The dwarf fumbled for something in his pocket but was forced to pause and push up his glasses, which had been sliding down the bridge of his nose on a stream of sweat.
A mighty gust of wind blew from the tree’s mouth, blasting the man's ankle-length beard over his shoulder. In its wake, drops of sap spittle splattered the librarian's face, gluing his glasses to his nose.
The dwarf rummaged again for something in his cloak pocket and this time grabbed hold of his prize, retrieving a rather large book from its folds. There was nothing very special about it save for a pair of eyes that blinked on the front cover.
“Gevinly, could you please confront this rogue tree for me?” the dwarf called above the roaring wind. “I fear I’m about to be eaten.”
“Beginus! Beginus! Put the man down!” the book cover called.
The hungry, man-eating birch tree (apparently called Beginus?) closed its mouth, swallowing the wind and all its noise. With one large eye, he peered at the book in the librarian’s hands.
“Gevinly? Is that you?” Beginus replied.
“Yes, yes, I am here,” the book croaked. “You are about to eat a dear friend of mine. Put him down.”
Beginus eyed the librarian for a moment and then looked back at the talking book in his hand. Finally, with a sigh as strong as a gust of wind, blowing the dwarf’s beard and hair into a tangled mess, he let the old man down.
“Gevinly! I thought you were dead,” Beginus said. “This librarian took you from our forest.” He shot the dwarf a nasty look that suggested the old man was not out of danger yet.
“No, no. I chose to be taken,” the book replied. “I was tired of hearing you all talk about the same things for centuries. When the librarian came, I begged to be taken with him. ‘I can’t lug around a tree,’ the librarian had said. And that was our predicament for a while, but then he offered to make me a book, and here I am! It’s not bad, really, being a book. I can be taken to far-off places and meet new faces. Sometimes I get dropped or a page is torn, but my dear friend, the librarian, looks after me.”
The dwarf beamed down at Gevinly for several reasons. One, he was a dear friend. Two, the angry birch had uncurled his snake-like root from around his middle. And three, well, he wasn’t going to be eaten anymore.
“So, you don’t die being made into a book?” Beginus asked.
“Quite, the opposite, my friend,” Gevinly replied, a smile creasing his front cover.
Beginus looked at the librarian, the bark over his eyes rippling as brows furrowed in concentration, and then slowly he bowed. “I am sorry for accusing you of killing my siblings and cousins...and I’m sorry for trying to eat you.”
The dwarf beamed at the bowing tree. “Oh, it’s nothing but water under the bridge.”
The birch shot the librarian a look, its eyes flashing dangerously. “Bridges are dead trees,” he growled.
“Not so, some are made of stone,” the dwarf amended quickly. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. “But anyways, I would feel most forgiving if I could have my library back. After all, it was also Gevinly’s home.”
Beginus slowly righted himself and looked for a moment at the encouraging eyes of his old friend, now a book. “Very, well,” Beginus rumbled.
The ground shuddered and the giant grizzly birch swayed. Its roots pulled up from the dirt and dragged itself from the spot where the library had rested. Then the giant tree turned and with a motion and sound like an enormous “ACHOO” the library was blasted out of Beginus’ mouth. Globs of sap oozed over the dome roof and hung like snot from its spires, but other than that it looked the same as the librarian had left it. The lights had even remained on inside and were shining through its round windows.
“I will spread the word,” Beginus said. “So that the other trees will not come to eat your library.”
“T-that is much appreciated,” said the dwarf who was now considering any other place to open a library.