Awakening by William Horwood Read Free Book Online

Book: Awakening by William Horwood Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Horwood
of the crowd, dragging his portersac behind him. Moments later they glimpsed him on the far side of the street, staggering down an alley, through a doorway out of sight.
    They only caught up with him some time later as he stumbled up the steps of the Great Library to an annexe in which Master Brief lived. ‘You’re under arrest!’ cried one of them.
    ‘Anything you say, any protest you make and any further attempt to fight the officials of the law will go hard against you, so be still!’ roared another.
    They hauled him to his feet. But as they began dragging him off to the infirmary the doors of the Library crashed open.
    Master Brief himself stood there, dishevelled but impressive, for though getting on in years he was well built and stood tall.
    He was still clad in his nightshirt, with a large tome in one hand and a pair of spectacles in the other. His white hair was untidy, his beard tousled and he looked ill-pleased indeed.
    ‘What is this?’ he roared. ‘It’s bad enough that I have been kept awake all night by those rumblings in the city’s foundations, but to have one of my few rest days of the year disturbed by ruffians is going too far!’
    The stavermen explained what had happened.
    Brief’s glance fell upon the portersac and stave they had found with the prisoner, which one of them was now carrying.
    ‘Where did you find those?’ he demanded at once, his fury replaced by astonishment.
    ‘With this ruffian.’
    ‘Humph!’ said Brief very ominously.
    Despite his state of dishabille he came down the steps, put on his spectacles and examined the portersac and looked dumbfounded. There was only one hydden who packed his ’sac so badly.
    He went at once to the hydden and peered closely at him.
    ‘But . . . but . . . but . . . ’ he spluttered, ‘do you not know who this is? The whole of Brum has been awaiting his return and you . . . you . . .’
    A crowd had gathered. It now pressed closer.
    ‘This hydden who you have harried hither and yon,’ cried Brief, ‘who has tried to run to me seeking sanctuary from your rough hands and violent staves, who was dragged down the steps of the Library bumpety-bump even as he tried to summon my aid . . . this excellent hydden . . . why he is . . .’
    ‘Who am I?’ said Stort sitting up and peering round, as bemused now as before and staring at Brief in puzzlement, ‘and who are you? Another villain from this most villainous of cities! Let me be free. Lead me to Master Brief!’
    ‘I am Brief, Master Scrivener of Brum, and you, sir, who seem quite literally to have forgotten yourself, are, if I am not mistaken . . . my one-time best and ablest student, Bedwyn Stort.’
    ‘Am I?’ said Stort.
    ‘You are,’ said Brief.
    ‘And you claim to be Brief?’
    ‘I do, and dammit I am .’
    Then turning to the stavermen he said, ‘Take him to my quarters in the Library, lie him down and hold him still, fetch a goodwife worthy of the name, and let us get to the bottom of all this . . . and another thing, fetch Master Pike as well as the High Ealdor, Lord Festoon. And Marshal Brunte too! Fetch ’em all at once to the Library!’
    ‘But, sir!’ said the stavermen, for Brief’s instruction to summon the most important people in Brum there and then went beyond their competence and perhaps even his own.
    ‘Do it!’ thundered Master Brief, climbing back up the steps to prepare himself for what promised to be a very trying first day of Summer.
    The news that Bedwyn Stort had returned to Brum in an injured and demented state spread through the city like wildfire and brought his friends and acquaintances hurrying to the Library, the crowd outside increasing. It barely dispersed overnight and grew larger still the following day.
    He had to be restrained all night and any attempt to clean him up, to feed him, even to loosen his clothes, met with a crazed and violent resistance so ferocious that anyone trying to minister to him soon stopped.
    There were one or two

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