Strange The Dreamer

STRANGE THE DREAMER


The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world?

more …

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? Who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. And how did he dream her before he knew she existed?

The answers await in Weep.

In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel (the first book in a duology) by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

less …
  • Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Paperback
  • May 2018
  • 560 Pages
  • 9780316341677

Buy the Book

$17.99

indies Bookstore indies Bookstore

About Laini Taylor

Laini TaylorLaini Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy: Daughter of Smoke & BoneDays of Blood & Starlight, and Dreams of Gods & Monsters, and the companion novella A Night of Cake & Puppets. She is also the author of the Dreamdark books Blackbringer and Silksinger; the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times; and Strange the Dreamer. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter Clementine.

Author Website

Praise

An instant New York Times bestseller and Michael L. Printz honor book!

Eleven best of lists including an NPR Best Book, a Goodreads Best YA Fantasy and Science Fiction Nominee, and more!

“[A] must-read YA!”USA Today 

“Part adventure novel, part romance and part exercise in epic myth-building, it’s gorgeously written and full of surprises.”NPR

“Gorgeously written in language simultaneously dark, lush, and enchanting, the book will leave readers eager for the next.”Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

Discussion Questions

1. Lazlo spends his childhood and adolescence with his nose in books. How does Lazlo’s life in books prepare him for his extraordinary journey and the world outside the library?

2. Sarai says, “Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice” (page 372). Many characters in Strange the Dreamer can be described as both heroic and villainous. Minya is cruel, but how is she also heroic? Is Thyon evil? Eril-Fane killed babies. Is he evil? Was the good these characters created worth the bad things they had to do to achieve it?

3. “And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can” (page 135). This is how the godspawn endure life in the citadel. How do the other characters in the book lay laughter over the darkness?

4. Eril-Fane is described as “a great man, and also a good one” (page 69). What is the difference between “good” and “great”? How do these terms apply to him? How do they apply to other characters in the book?

5. Sarai’s moths and Lazlo’s books allow those characters to experience life from a distance. How does that distance affect their hopes and dreams? How does it affect their relationship with each other?

6. What do you think the eliliths represent? What do you think the color blue signifies?

7. The libraries of Zosma, Weep, and the citadel are beautiful places that are full of sadness. How does this description reflect the themes of the book?

8. Most chapters follow either Lazlo or Sarai. What do their different points of view bring to the story? What do the other characters’ points of view add?

9. Why do you think Lazlo and Sarai fall in love so quickly?

10. Were you surprised when Feral and Ruby developed a relationship, despite Sparrow having feelings for him? Who do you think is the better match for Feral?

11. What parallels can you make between things that happen in the novel and things happening in the world today?

12. How does Lazlo change on this journey? How will his new identity shape his journey moving forward? How does Sarai transform over the course of the book?

13. At the end of the book, what monsters still need to be conquered to reach a harmonious end? In real life, is a harmonious end even possible?

Excerpt

1

MYSTERIES OF WEEP

Names may be lost or forgotten. No one knew that better than Lazlo Strange. He’d had another name first, but it had died like a song with no one left to sing it. Maybe it had been an old family name, burnished by generations of use. Maybe it had been given to him by someone who loved him. He liked to think so, but he had no idea. All he had were Lazlo and StrangeStrange because that was the surname given to all foundlings in the Kingdom of Zosma, and Lazlo after a monk’s tongueless uncle.

“He had it cut out on a prison galley,” Brother Argos told him when he was old enough to understand. “He was an eerie silent man, and you were an eerie silent babe, so it came to me: Lazlo. I had to name so many babies that year I went with whatever popped into my head.” He added, as an afterthought, “Didn’t think you’d live anyway.”

That was the year Zosma sank to its knees and bled great gouts of men into a war about nothing. The war, of course, did not content itself with soldiers. Fields were burned; villages, pillaged. Bands of displaced peasants roamed the razed countryside, fighting the crows for gleanings. So many died that the tumbrils used to cart thieves to the gallows were repurposed to carry orphans to the monasteries and convents. They arrived like shipments of lambs, to hear the monks tell it, and with no more knowledge of their provenance than lambs, either. Some were old enough to know their names at least, but Lazlo was just a baby, and an ill one, no less.

“Gray as rain, you were,” Brother Argos said. “Thought sure you’d die, but you ate and you slept and your color came normal in time. Never cried, never once, and that was unnatural, but we liked you for it fine. None of us became monks to be nursemaids.”

To which the child Lazlo replied, with fire in his soul, “And none of us became children to be orphans.”

But an orphan he was, and a Strange, and though he was prone to fantasy, he never had any delusions about that. Even as a little boy, he understood that there would be no revelations. No one was coming for him, and he would never know his own true name.

Which is perhaps why the mystery of Weep captured him so completely.

There were two mysteries, actually: one old, one new. The old one opened his mind, but it was the new one that climbed inside, turned several circles, and settled in with a grunt—like a satisfied dragon in a cozy new lair. And there it would remain—the mystery, in his mind—exhaling enigma for years to come.

It had to do with a name, and the discovery that, in addition to being lost or forgotten, they could also be stolen.

He was five years old when it happened, a charity boy at Zemonan Abbey, and he’d snuck away to the old orchard that was the haunt of nightwings and lacewings to play by himself. It was early winter. The trees were black and bare. His feet breached a crust of frost with every step, and the cloud of his breath accompanied him like a chummy ghost.

The Angelus rang, its bronze voice pouring through the sheepfold and over the orchard walls in slow, rich waves. It was a call to prayer. If he didn’t go in, he would be missed, and if he was missed, he would be whipped.

He didn’t go in.

Lazlo was always finding ways to slip off on his own, and his legs were always striped from the hazel switch that hung from a hook with his name on it. It was worth it. To get away from the monks and the rules and the chores and the life that pinched like tight shoes.

To play.

“Turn back now if you know what’s good for you,” he warned imaginary enemies. He held a “sword” in each hand: black apple branches with the stout ends bound in twine to make hilts. He was a small, underfed waif with cuts on his head where the monks nicked it, shaving it against lice, but he held himself with exquisite dignity, and there could be no doubt that in his own mind, in that moment, he was a warrior. And not just any warrior, but a Tizerkane, fiercest that ever was. “No outsider,” he told his foes, “has ever set eyes on the forbidden city. And as long as I draw breath, none ever will.”

“We’re in luck, then,” the foes replied, and they were more real to him in the twilight than the monks whose chanting drifted downhill from the abbey. “Because you won’t be drawing breath for much longer.”

Lazlo’s gray eyes narrowed to slits. “You think you can defeat me?”

The black trees danced. His breath-ghost scudded away on a gust, only to be replaced by another. His shadow splayed out huge before him, and his mind gleamed with ancient wars and winged beings, a mountain of melted demon bones and the city on the far side of it—a city that had vanished in the mists of time.

This was the old mystery.

It had come to him from a senile monk, Brother Cyrus. He was an invalid, and it fell to the charity boys to bring him his meals. He wasn’t kind. No grandfather figure, no mentor. He had a terrible grip, and was known to hold the boys by the wrist for hours, forcing them to repeat nonsense catechisms and confess to all manner of wickedness they could scarce understand, let alone have committed. They all had a terror of him and his gnarled raptor hands, and the bigger boys, sooner than protect the smaller, sent them to his lair in their stead. Lazlo was as scared as the rest, yet he volunteered to bring all the meals.

Why?

Because Brother Cyrus told stories.

Stories were not smiled upon at the abbey. At best, they distracted from spiritual contemplation. At worst, they honored false gods and festered into sin. But Brother Cyrus had gone beyond such strictures. His mind had slipped its moorings. He never seemed to understand where he was, and his confusion infuriated him. His face grew clenched and red. Spittle flew when he ranted. But he had his moments of calm: when he slipped through some cellar door in his memory, back to his boyhood and the stories his grandmother used to tell him. He couldn’t remember the other monks’ names, or even the prayers that had been his vocation for decades, but the stories poured from him, and Lazlo listened. He listened the way a cactus drinks rain.

In the south and east of the continent of Namaa—far, far from northerly Zosma—there was a vast desert called the Elmuthaleth, the crossing of which was an art perfected by few and fiercely guarded against all others. Somewhere across its emptiness lay a city that had never been seen. It was a rumor, a fable, but it was a rumor and fable from which marvels emerged, carried by camels across the desert to fire the imaginations of folk the world over.

The city had a name.

The men who drove the camels, who brought the marvels, they told the name and they told stories, and the name and the stories made their way, with the marvels, to distant lands, where they conjured visions of glittering domes and tame white stags, women so beautiful they melted the mind, and men whose scimitars blinded with their shine.

For centuries this was so. Wings of palaces were devoted to the marvels, and shelves of libraries to the stories. Traders grew rich. Adventurers grew bold, and went to find the city for themselves. None returned. It was forbidden to faranji—outsiders—who, if they survived the Elmuthaleth crossing, were executed as spies. Not that that stopped them from trying. Forbid a man something and he craves it like his soul’s salvation, all the more so when that something is the source of incomparable riches.

Many tried.

None ever returned.

The desert horizon birthed sun after sun, and it seemed as if nothing would ever change. But then, two hundred years ago, the caravans stopped coming. In the western outposts of the Elmuthaleth—Alkonost and others—they watched for the heat-distorted silhouettes of camel trains to emerge from the emptiness as they always had, but they did not.

And they did not.

And they did not.

There were no more camels, no more men, no more marvels, and no more stories. Ever. That was the last that was ever heard from the forbidden city, the unseen city, the lost city, and this was the mystery that had opened Lazlo’s mind like a door.

What had happened? Did the city still exist? He wanted to know everything. He learned to coax Brother Cyrus into that place of reverie, and he collected the stories like treasure. Lazlo owned nothing, not one single thing, but from the first, the stories felt like his own hoard of gold.

The domes of the city, Brother Cyrus said, were all connected by silk ribbons, and children balanced upon them like tightrope walkers, dashing from palace to palace in capes of colored feathers. No doors were ever closed to them, and even the birdcages were open for the birds to come and go as they pleased, and wondrous fruits grew everywhere, ripe for the plucking, and cakes were left out on window ledges, free for the taking.

Lazlo had never even seen cake, let alone tasted it, and he’d been whipped for eating windfall apples that were more worm than fruit. These visions of freedom and plenty bewitched him. Certainly, they distracted from spiritual contemplation, but in the same way that the sight of a shooting star distracts from the ache of an empty belly. They marked his first consideration that there might be other ways of living than the one he knew. Better, sweeter ways.

The streets of the city, Brother Cyrus said, were tiled with lapis lazuli and kept scrupulously clean so as not to soil the long, long hair the ladies wore loose and trailing behind them like bolts of blackest silk. Elegant white stags roamed the streets like citizens, and reptiles big as men drifted in the river. The first were spectrals, and the substance of their antlers—spectralys, or lys—was more precious than gold. The second were svytagors, whose pink blood was an elixir of immortality. There were ravids, too—great cats with fangs like scythes—and birds that mimicked human voices, and scorpions whose sting imparted superhuman strength.

And there were the Tizerkane warriors.

They wielded blades called hreshtek, sharp enough to slice a man off his shadow, and kept scorpions in brass cages hooked to their belts. Before battle, they would thrust a finger through a small opening to be stung, and under the influence of the venom, they were unstoppable.

“You think you can defeat me?” Lazlo defied his orchard foes.

“There are a hundred of us,” they replied, “and only one of you. What do you think?”

“I think you should believe every story you’ve ever heard about the Tizerkane, and turn around and go home!”

Their laughter sounded like the creaking of branches, and Lazlo had no choice but to fight. He poked his finger into the little lopsided cage of twigs and twine that dangled from his rope belt. There was no scorpion in it, only a beetle stunned by the cold, but he gritted his teeth against an imagined sting and felt venom bloom power in his blood. And then he lifted his blades, arms raised in a V, and roared.

He roared the city’s name. Like thunder, like an avalanche, like the war cry of the seraphim who had come on wings of fire and cleansed the world of demons. His foes stumbled. They gaped. The venom sang in him, and he was something more than human. He was a whirlwind. He was a god. They tried to fight, but they were no match for him. His swords flashed lightning as, two by two, he disarmed them all.

In the thick of play, his daydreams were so vivid that a glimpse of reality would have shocked him. If he could have stood apart and seen the little boy crashing through the frost-stiff bracken, waving branches around, he would scarcely have recognized himself, so deeply did he inhabit the warrior in his mind’s eye, who had just disarmed a hundred enemies and sent them staggering home. In triumph, he tipped back his head, and let out a cry of…

… a cry of…

“Weep!”

He froze, confused. The word had broken from his mouth like a curse, leaving an aftertaste of tears. He had reached for the city’s name, as he had just a moment ago, but… it was gone. He tried again, and again found Weep instead. It was like putting out his hand for a flower and coming back with a slug or sodden handkerchief. His mind recoiled from it. He couldn’t stop trying, though, and each time was worse than the one before. He groped for what he knew had been there, and all he fished up was the awful word Weep, slick with wrongness, damp as bad dreams, and tinged with its residue of salt. His mouth curled with its bitterness. A feeling of vertigo swept over him, and the mad certainty that it had been taken.

It had been taken from his mind.

He felt sick, robbed. Diminished. He raced back up the slope, scrabbling over low stone walls, and pelted through the sheepfold, past the garden and through the cloister, still gripping his apple branch swords. He saw no one, but was seen. There was a rule against running, and anyway, he ought to have been at vespers. He ran straight to Brother Cyrus’s cell and shook him awake. “The name,” he said, gasping for breath. “The name is missing. The city from the stories, tell me its name!”

He knew deep down that he hadn’t forgotten it, that this was something else, something dark and strange, but there was still the chance that maybe, maybe Brother Cyrus would remember, and all would be well.

But Brother Cyrus said, “What do you mean, you fool boy? It’s Weep—” And Lazlo had just time to see the old man’s face buckle with confusion before a hand closed on his collar and yanked him out the door.

“Wait,” he implored. “Please.” To no avail. He was dragged all the way to the abbot’s office, and when they whipped him this time, it wasn’t with his hazel switch, which hung in a row with all the other boys’ switches, but one of his apple boughs. He was no Tizerkane now. Never mind a hundred enemies; he was disarmed by a single monk and beaten with his own sword. Some hero. He limped for weeks, and was forbidden from seeing Brother Cyrus, who’d grown so agitated by his visit that he’d had to be sedated.

There were no more stories after that, and no more escapes—at least, not into the orchard, or anywhere outside his own mind. The monks kept a sharp eye on him, determined to keep him free of sin—and of joy, which, if not explicitly a sin, at least clears a path to it. He was kept busy. If he wasn’t working, he was praying. If he wasn’t praying, he was working, always under “adequate supervision” to prevent his vanishing like a wild creature into the trees. At night he slept, exhausted as a gravedigger, too tired even to dream. It did seem as though the fire in him was smothered, the thunder and the avalanche, the war cry and the whirlwind, all stamped out.

As for the name of the vanished city, it had vanished, too. Lazlo would always remember the feel of it in his mind, though. It had felt like calligraphy, if calligraphy were written in honey, and that was as close to it as he—or anyone—could come. It wasn’t just him and Brother Cyrus. Wherever the name had been found—printed on the spines of books that held its stories, in the old, yellowed ledgers of merchants who’d bought its goods, and woven into the memories of anyone who’d ever heard it—it was simply erased, and Weep was left in its place.

This was the new mystery.

This, he never doubted, was magic.

2

THE DREAM CHOOSES THE DREAMER

Lazlo grew up.

No one would ever call him lucky, but it could have been worse. Among the monasteries that took in foundlings, one was a flagellant order. Another raised hogs. But Zemonan Abbey was famous for its scriptorium. The boys were early trained to copy—though not to read; he had to teach himself that part—and those with any skill were drafted into scribing. Skill he had, and he might have stayed there his whole life, bent over a desk, his neck growing forward instead of upright, had not the brothers taken ill one day from bad fish. This wasluck, or perhaps fate. Some manuscripts were expected at the Great Library of Zosma, and Lazlo was charged to deliver them.

He never came back.

The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between. It encompassed not only the vast archives, but the university, too, together with laboratories and glasshouses, medical theaters and music rooms, and even a celestial observatory. All this occupied what had been the royal palace before the current queen’s grandfather built a finer one straddling the Eder and gifted this one to the Scholars’ Guild. It ranged across the top of Zosimos Ridge, which knifed up from Zosma City like a shark’s fin, and was visible from miles away.

Lazlo was in a state of awe from the moment he passed through the gates. His mouth actually fell open when he saw the Pavilion of Thought. That was the grandiose name for the ballroom that now housed the library’s philosophy texts. Shelves rose forty feet under an astonishing painted ceiling, and the spines of books glowed in jewel-toned leather, their gold leaf shining in the glavelight like animal eyes. The glaves themselves were perfect polished spheres, hanging by the hundreds and emitting a purer white light than he’d ever seen from the rough, ruddy stones that lit the abbey. Men in gray robes rode upon wheeled ladders, seeming to float through the air, scrolls flapping behind them like wings as they rolled from shelf to shelf.

It was impossible that he should leave this place. He was like a traveler in an enchanted wood. Every step deeper bewitched him further, and deeper he did go, from room to room as though guided by instinct, down secret stairs to a sublevel where dust lay thick on books undisturbed for years. He disturbed them. It seemed to him that he awoke them, and they awoke him.

He was thirteen, and he hadn’t played Tizerkane for years. He hadn’t played anything, or strayed out of step. At the abbey, he was one more gray-clad figure going where he was told, working, praying, chanting, praying, working, praying, sleeping. Few of the brothers even remembered his wildness now. It seemed all gone out of him.

In fact, it had just gone deep. The stories were still there, every word that Brother Cyrus had ever told him. He cherished them like a little stash of gold in a corner of his mind.

That day, the stash grew bigger. Much bigger. The books under the dust, they were stories. Folktales, fairy tales, myths, and legends. They spanned the whole world. They went back centuries, and longer, and whole shelves of them—entire, beautiful shelves—were stories of Weep. He lifted one down with more reverence than he’d ever felt for the sacred texts at the abbey, blew off the dust, and began to read.

He was found days later by a senior librarian, but only because the man was looking for him, a letter from the abbot in the pocket of his robes. Elsewise, Lazlo might have lived down there like a boy in a cave for who knows how long. He might have grown feral: the wild boy of the Great Library, versed in three dead languages and all the tales ever written in them, but ragged as a beggar in the alleys of the Grin.

Instead, he was taken on as an apprentice.

“The library knows its own mind,” old Master Hyrrokkin told him, leading him back up the secret stairs. “When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

Lazlo couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself. In the days that followed—and then the months and years, as he grew into a man—he was rarely to be seen without one open in front of his face. He read while he walked. He read while he ate. The other librarians suspected he somehow read while he slept, or perhaps didn’t sleep at all. On the occasions that he did look up from the page, he would seem as though he were awakening from a dream. “Strange the dreamer,” they called him. “That dreamer, Strange.” And it didn’t help that he sometimes walked into walls while reading, or that his favorite books hailed from that dusty sublevel where no one else cared to go. He drifted about with his head full of myths, always at least half lost in some otherland of story. Demons and wingsmiths, seraphim and spirits, he loved it all. He believed in magic, like a child, and in ghosts, like a peasant. His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.

That was what they meant when they called him a dreamer, and they weren’t wrong, but they missed the main point. Lazlo was a dreamer in more profound a way than they knew. That is to say, he had a dream—a guiding and abiding one, so much a part of him it was like a second soul inside his skin. The landscape of his mind was all given over to it. It was a deep and ravishing landscape, and a daring and magnificent dream. Too daring, too magnificent for the likes of him. He knew that, but the dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around.

“What’s that you’re reading, Strange?” asked Master Hyrrokkin, hobbling up behind him at the Enquiries desk. “Love letter, I hope.”

The old librarian expressed this wish more often than was seemly, undaunted that the answer was always no. Lazlo was on the verge of making his usual response, but paused, considering. “In a way,” he said, and held out the paper, which was brittle and yellowed with age.

A gleam lit Master Hyrrokkin’s faded brown eyes, but when he adjusted his spectacles and looked at the page, the gleam winked out. “This appears to be a receipt,” he observed.

“Ah, but a receipt for what?”

Skeptical, Master Hyrrokkin squinted to read, then gave a crack of a laugh that turned every head in the huge, hushed room. They were in the Pavilion of Thought. Scholars in scarlet robes were hunched at long tables, and they all looked up from their scrolls and tomes, eyes grim with disapproval. Master Hyrrokkin bobbed a nod of apology and handed Lazlo back the paper, which was an old bill for a very large shipment of aphrodisiacs to a long-dead king. “Seems he wasn’t called the Amorous King for his poetry, eh? But what are you doing? Tell me this isn’t what it looks like. For god’s sake, boy. Tell me you aren’t archiving receipts on your free day.”

Lazlo was a boy no longer, no trace remaining—outwardly—of the small bald foundling with cuts on his head. He was tall now, and he’d let his hair grow long once he was free of the monks and their dull razors. It was dark and heavy and he tied it back with bookbinder’s twine and spared it very little thought. His brows were dark and heavy, too, his features strong and broad. “Rough-hewn,” some might have said, or even “thuggish” on account of his broken nose, which made a sharp angle in profile, and from the front skewed distinctly to the left. He had a raw, rugged look—and sound, too: his voice low and masculine and not at all smooth, as though it had been left out in the weather. In all this, his dreamer’s eyes were incongruous: gray and wide and guileless. Just now they weren’t quite meeting Master Hyrrokkin’s gaze. “Of course not,” he said unconvincingly. “What kind of maniac would archive receipts on his free day?”

“Then what are you doing?”

He shrugged. “A steward found an old box of bills in a cellar. I’m just having a look.”

“Well, it’s a shocking waste of youth. How old are you now? Eighteen?”

“Twenty,” Lazlo reminded him, though in truth he couldn’t be certain, having chosen a birthday at random when he was a boy. “And you wasted your youth the same way.”

“And I’m a cautionary tale! Look at me.” Lazlo did. He saw a soft, stooped creature of a man whose dandelion-fluff hair, beard, and brows encroached upon his face to such a degree that only his sharp little nose and round spectacles showed. He looked, Lazlo thought, like an owlet fallen out of its nest. “Do you want to end your days a half-blind troglodyte hobbling through the bowels of the library?” the old man demanded. “Get out of doors, Strange. Breathe air, see things. A man should have squint lines from looking at the horizon, not just from reading in dim light.”

“What’s a horizon?” Lazlo asked, straight-faced. “Is it like the end of an aisle of books?”

“No,” said Master Hyrrokkin. “Not in any way.”

Lazlo smiled and went back to the receipts. Well, that word made them sound dull, even in his head. They were old cargo manifests, which sounded marginally more thrilling, from a time when the palace had been the royal residence and goods had come from every corner of the world. He wasn’t archiving them. He was skimming them for the telltale flourishes of a particular rare alphabet. He was looking, as he always was on some level, for hints of the Unseen City—which was how he chose to think of it, since Weep still brought the taste of tears. “I’ll go in a moment,” he assured Master Hyrrokkin. It might not have seemed like it, but he took the old man’s words to heart. He had, in fact, no wish to end his days at the library—half blind or otherwise—and every hope of earning his squint lines by looking at the horizon.

The horizon he wished to look at, however, was very far away.

And also, incidentally, forbidden.

Master Hyrrokkin gestured to a window. “You’re at least aware, I hope, that it’s summer out there?” When Lazlo didn’t respond, he added, “Large orange orb in the sky, low necklines on the fairer sex. Any of this ring a bell?” Still nothing. “Strange?”

“What?” Lazlo looked up. He hadn’t heard a word. He’d found what he was looking for—a sheaf of bills from the Unseen City—and it had stolen his attention away.

The old librarian gave a theatrical sigh. “Do as you will,” he said, half doom and half resignation. “Just take care. The books may be immortal, but we are not. You go down to the stacks one morning, and by the time you come up, you’ve a beard down to your belly and have never once composed a poem to a girl you met ice-skating on the Eder.”

“Is that how one meets girls?” asked Lazlo, only half in jest. “Well, the river won’t freeze for months. I have time to rally my courage.”

“Bah! Girls are not a hibernal phenomenon. Go now. Pick some flowers and find one to give them to. It’s as simple as that. Look for kind eyes and wide hips, do you hear me? Hips, boy. You haven’t lived until you’ve laid your head on a nice, soft—”

Mercifully, he was interrupted by the approach of a scholar.