“The Book teaches. The Book guides.” Alia repeated the mantra to herself, her voice trembling.
The Keeper of the Book had performed her Last Reading several days ago, and now her body was being prepared for passage into Abirt's realm.
Consequently, the task of Keeper of the Book had fallen to Alia. She had spent years preparing for this moment; she had been purified in the waters of the Urd, she had studied the writings of her forebears and she had traveled to the Home Ceitu in a dream-trance.
From this day until her last, only Alia would be able to perceive the numerous manifestations of the Book and interpret their teachings. To be the Keeper of the Book was to be the leader of her people. She was to do this until the day of her Last Reading, when she would give herself to Abirt.
“The Book teaches. The Book guides.”
The Book had given her people much. It had taught them of seacraft borne by the wind, with which they traveled to the Northern Isles. It had taught them of tools used to prepare the harsh land for crops, so that food could be grown in abundance. It had taught them of the melting of metals, from which weapons for hunting could be crafted.
“Alia,” It was the voice of Joren, Alia's tutor and caretaker. She had not heard him enter. “It's time for your first Reading.”
“I…I'm not ready, Joren.”
“Do not worry child, you have performed the rites. The Book will look favourably upon you. Come now.”
Joren pushed aside the coloured fabric draped over the doorway and motioned to Alia. She hesitated briefly, then rose and exited the room through the gap in the cloth.
Alia stood alone outside the heavy wooden door leading into the Chamber of Readings, her hand resting on the doorknob. She inhaled deeply, opened the door and entered into the Chamber.
The circular room was dimly lit by two braziers on either side of the doorway. A cylindrical stone pedestal occupied the centre of the room, the Book lying open on top. Alia walked up to the pedestal and examined the Book. It was unexpectedly bland. This was an object revered by hundreds, it had served as a guide for her people for generations – the last thing she had expected it to be was dull. And yet, it was dull, little more than aged paper bound in black. Alia picked up the Book and slowly thumbed through its yellowed pages: they were all blank. She set the Book back down on its pedestal, taking care to close it.
Alia placed her hand on the cover of the Book and said the required words, as she had been instructed. “Grant me your knowledge, so that I may teach them. Grant me your wisdom, so that I may lead them. Grant me your guidance, so that I may show them the way.”
Alia withdrew her hand, but the Book was unchanged. She knew that the Book would soon alter itself, she merely had to wait for it to do so. Doubts began to rise up in her mind. Would her people accept her as the new Keeper of the Book so readily? What if she failed to interpret the Book's guidance correctly?
Alia wasn't sure exactly when the Book had changed. She had been sitting against the curved walls of the Chamber, only occasionally glancing at it. From across the room she could tell that the thickness of the Book had increased. It was now at least twice as large as it had been. Alia stood up with trepidation and walked slowly towards the pedestal. She picked up the Book and flicked through through its pages as before, however this time they displayed words and diagrams. Alia was relieved; the Book had accepted her as its new Keeper. Even though she dreaded the day of her Last Reading, Alia was grateful for the opportunity to serve her people. She closed the Book and turned it over in her hands. On the front cover in bold white text were the words: How to Fight a War.