The town only had one bookstore, Bark's Books. It served Whitestag's elite almost exclusively. It wasn't a particularly big establishment, but it still occupied two storefronts. It was also very quiet.
"I heard you just got a new batch of books, Uncle Bark?" Borkal shouted as he stepped into the quiet shop.
He was a regular by now and didn't bother keeping his voice down.
"Over there, I've got 15 in all. Be careful with them! I only got three copies of each. I'll have you pay if you ruin one!" the owner said behind the counter, adjusting his monocle as he read his bills.
Eight of the books were biographies. Claude had never had a good view of biographies. Most of them were nothing but narcissists stroking their ego, and that was even more-so true now. They were usually commissioned by a famous or well-off noble or councillor and heavily edited -- for accuracy's sake, of course.
<i>Only stupid people read them, and only idiots believe them...</i> Claude thought.
Five of the books were novellas, the standard cookie-cutter knight's tale. They only differed from the typical renaissance tales of old earth in that they used magi as their antagonists, rather than dragons. In these novels, however, the dragons were never anymore than the magi's mounts. They usually either turned against their masters, were killed off by the knight before the main fight, or became the knight's mount. He was ashamed to admit that he very much enjoyed them when he was young, well, when he was last young.
One of the remaining two was a travel journal, written by one of Aueras's diplomats about his experiences while travelling all over the continent on his missions. Claude picked one of the copies.
The other was a report on the latest discoveries of maritime flora and fauna. Most of the book was dedicated to a new dye a herbalist had synthesised after nearly a decade of research and experimentation. The main ingredients were violet-water and atro grass. Apparently it also lasted longer than any of the hitherto known dyes.
It would make a good addition to his father's study, so he added a copy of that to his stack. His father, as the town secretary, was expected to have a good body of knowledge, to know something about everything, so he liked to show off his cupboard of books to his visitors as proof he met that expectation. He might even be able to use the book to help motivate his application for funding of his new project.
Claude ended up buying one book from each of the categories, the 'Atro Grass' book, the travel journal 'Sights of Shiks', one of the romances, and a random biography. It cost him two riyas and two sunars in all. He didn't want to buy so many, but he couldn't spend less on books than his father had given him.
He really didn't want to buy the biography, but his father liked them quite a bit, so he'd complain if he didn't bring at least one back. As for the novel, he didn't really have an interest in them anymore, but they were good to kill a few boring hours. Especially for reading while on the toilet. He missed phones very much. He suffered from the same problem here as back then: he couldn't unleash himself while his mind was occupied with the daily grime, so he needed something with which to blank his mind.
"Take a look at this, Claude," Eriksson called in a suspiciously soft tone, "I found something good..."
"What are you up to? You look like a thief!" Claude scolded as he walked over.
He slipped a book into Claude's hand surreptitiously. Claude flipped it open, somewhat annoyed, but a wry smile flashed across his face when he saw what was inside.
He'd never thought these kind of adult material would be popular this early into the printing era. It was copied by hand, but the man must have been quite skilled. It wasn't photorealistic by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly got all the titillating details correct. No wonder Eriksson was red up to his ears and standing slightly awkwardly with his hips.
He flipped through it quickly, making sure his back covered the book from any wandering eyes. The story was apparently about a young noble lady doing her best to save her father's title. Naturally, the book being what it was, she was selling favours of a particular nature, and the paragraphs were quite detailed on her... interactions.
No wonder it was handwritten, not printed. These were banned in the kingdom. If caught, the author could be sent to prison for up to six years, and would be made a villain. Copiers and readers also faced steep fines and could even be made villains and forced to work in labour camps for three months to earn back a place among the peasantry. The exact punishment depended heavily on the enforcer and the transgressor. Someone in a particularly high station, or with a very good relationship with the enforcer might actually be able to have the transgression overlooked.
"Where'd you get this?" Claude asked.
"It was in Uncle Bark's private collection. What d'you think?"
"Average," Claude said, tossing the book back to Eriksson, "It's much better to see the real thing."
"You say that like <i>you</i> have," Eriksson accused, slipping the book back, "How about we buy it and sell copies to the boys at school?"
Claude glared at him.
"Go right ahead if you want to die so badly, just leave me out of it. The whole school will know the moment you suggest it to the first kid, and the teachers won't be far behind. You'll ruin your entire family's reputation, and you'll be lucky if social standing is all they lose!"
Eriksson stared at Claude.
"I'll beat anyone who dares tell on me to death."
"It'll be too late for you even if you do. You'll only find out once they've already told on you, and then you'll already have the crown on your arse."
Claude also bought card stock and 20 pieces of mali paper to copy the recipes for his mother.
Mali paper was exclusive to the far south of the kingdom and was far finer than the rough papyrus paper the three prefectures made. They were expensive as they were fine though; each sheet cost a fenny. All official documents had to be written on them to be valid, however.
His father worked with it all the time since all his reports and journals had to be written on it. He brought the bits and bobs left over home and his children used it to do their homework. They were quite extravagant like that.
His sheets were bits and bobs though, so he had to roll them up to carry them back to school. He saw Eriksson stuffing the adult book into his chest pocket. The fool still bought it...
"How much?" he whispered.
Eriksson nearly jumped over the counter.
"O-one riyas, eight sunars," he stuttered, clutching his heart.
"What?! Why's it so expensive?"
"Uncle Bark says it's much more work to copy books by hand, so it's also much more expensive, not to mention that its proscribed. He only has one, too..."
Bullshit! No wonder Eriksson thought of making a copies. Damn that was expensive!
"Sell it to Boa or rent it to him when you're done. You should be able to make a little of it back that way."
"So you do want to read it, huh? I'll sell it to you a little cheaper when I'm done--"
"--Buzz off. I don't want to read that!"
Borkal slapped his forehead when they got back to school.
"Did you hit your sister when you got home yesterday, Claude?"
"Why would you say that?" Claude asked, stopping, "Of course I didn't! I would never hit her! She's the most precious thing in the world! Why would I hit her? I went to sleep straight away."
"So it wasn't you... We heard your sister crying in the kitchen when we came by to deliver the meat yesterday. She stopped and quickly wiped her tears when we came in, but her eyes were red and swollen. She wouldn't tell us why she was crying no matter how much we asked, but we could see a red palm on her cheek. We thought it must have been you since you got home not long before we came," Welikro said.
Claude's eyes were instantly bloodshot. He'd done his best to be a good older brother since he came to this world. He was not going to let anyone do anything to his little brother and sister as long as he breathed.
"Arbeit..." the word bled out of his mouth.
He knew it was him the moment he heard what happened to his sister. So <i>that</i> was why the shit didn't say anything the previous night! He dared to touch his little sister?! Oh he was going to bleed, he was going to bleed so bad...