For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ireland, 441 A.D.
A ring of standing stones crowned the summit of a rocky mountain on the rugged west coast of Erin, overlooking the island-spotted bay thousands of feet below. Although spring was drawing nigh, the night was cool and damp. A gibbous moon cast its chilly radiance upon the looming, rough-hewn stones, which had watched mutely over the lonely mountaintop for millennia.
Lady Sibella was less patient.
She stood at the center of the ring before an equally primeval stone altar. A dark silk robe, of the finest quality, shielded her from the cool vernal winds blowing off the ocean. A scowl marred her pale, aristocratic features, whose gleaming skin seemed almost iridescent in the moonlight. Lustrous black hair was coiled atop her head in the style of a lady of means. Long, sinuous fingers toyed with an exquisitely crafted bronze dagger with a hilt shaped like a striking serpent. The dagger was an emblem of her authority, passed down from one generation of leaders to another by an ancient, clandestine order whose tireless pursuit of magic and power was destined to someday transform the world.
The Serpent Brotherhood.
"I grow weary of waiting," she announced, her accent that of a wellborn Briton. "The appointed hour has come and gone. The little man tests my forbearance."
Two warriors accompanied her, to guard her person and to carry out her wishes, sanguinary or otherwise. One was a Greek mercenary, the other a disgraced Roman legionnaire. The latter had his short sword drawn, the better to defend her, while the former held a bundle wrapped in a plain lambskin blanket. A mewling sound escaped the bundle, which was cradled in the mercenary's brawny arms. Sibella's stomach grumbled at the sound, reminding her that she had not dined in hours.
"Perhaps he has been delayed, milady," the Roman said. His clean-shaven face bore a snake tattoo on one cheek.
"Not for much longer, I hope." She tapped her foot against the stony ground. "My time is valuable ... and my nature none too forgiving."
She gazed past the standing stones at the sleeping woods and pastures beyond the eastern slope of the mountain. Only a few pathetic farms and hovels could be glimpsed in the distance, the smoke from their pungent turf fires rising up from thatched huts cowering behind crude walls of rock or timber. Ireland was a backward, barbaric isle, far from the comforts of civilization; a land of barely literate savages, so far removed from the affairs of the greater world that even Rome had left it untouched. Sibella had journeyed a long way, crossing the Irish Sea, to reach this benighted isle. She hoped the voyage was worth it.
"And if he does not come?" the Greek asked.
Ice entered Sibella's voice. Her finger tested the point of her ophidian dagger.
"Then he will learn not to trifle with his betters." A rustling in the brush reached her ears. She raised her voice, calling out to the shadows outside the stone ring. "If you can hear me, show yourself at once, before I do something you will almost certainly regret."
At first, none answered, but then a voice responded in the peculiar Gaelic tongue of the isle.
"No need for threat. Here I be, as agreed."
A diminutive figure detached himself from the shadows at the base of one of the standing stones. No more than two feet tall, the newcomer was the size of a child, but had the appearance of a man in his forties, right down to his bushy red beard. His cocked hat, jacket, and breeches were forest green, while brass buckles adorned his belt and shoes. Tiny fingers gripped a shillelagh of proportional size. The sturdy blackthorn walking stick was topped by a bulbous knob, making it useful as a cudgel as well.
"Took you long enough, sprite," Sibella said. "Or is punctuality not deemed a virtue among your kind?"
"'Twas no easy task you set for me," the leprechaun said, bristling at her tone. He glanced anxiously over his shoulder as though fearful that he was being pursued. "But I've brought what ye asked for."
"I should hope so," Sibella said. "Show me."
"As ye wish."
There was a ripple in the air before him, as of a glamour being cast aside, and a sizable pot of gold was revealed before the leprechaun. A king's ransom in golden coins was piled within the antique bronze pot, which was adorned with the interlocking spirals and triskeles so beloved by Celtic artisans. The embossed image of a pagan god presided over one panel, Sibella observed. The coins themselves gleamed in the moonlight, as though freshly minted. The warriors flanking Sibella gasped out loud. She could practically smell the avarice surging through their veins, not that she could blame her men for their reaction. A fortune in gold was enough to awe any mortal.
"Yesss." Sibella's slitted yellow eyes widened at the sight of the treasure that was finally within her grasp. Her icy heart beat a little faster. "Fetch it!" she eagerly ordered the Roman. "I must have it!"
"Be not so hasty!" the leprechaun objected. With a wave of his shillelagh, he banished the pot and its gleaming contents, so that it vanished from sight. "What of yer end of the bargain?"
Sibella scowled, unhappy at the delay but willing to put up with the inconvenience if it meant securing the pot with a minimum of bother. She nodded grudgingly at the Greek, who stepped forward and laid his bundle on the sacrificial altar before her. Looking grateful to be rid of his unmanly burden, he unwrapped the swaddling to expose its squirming contents: a baby girl no more than a month old.
A look of distaste crossed Sibella's face. She had little use for children, except perhaps as appetizers. Her stomach grumbled once more.
"Ah, ye poor motherless babe," the leprechaun murmured. "Let me spirit ye away from this wretched place!"
Now it was the leprechaun's turn to start forward eagerly, but Sibella scraped the blade of her dagger against the stone altar to get his attention. He froze in place as she raised the knife above the defenseless infant.
"Who is being hasty now?" she said mockingly. Her free hand caressed the top of the ancient altar, her fingertips traced the winding grooves and drains carved into the stone by artisans of ages past. "Did you know that this mountain, known to the rustics hereabouts as Cruachan Aigle, has long been sacred to the fierce god Crom — and before that to even darker, more voracious deities? This plump little morsel would hardly be the first innocent to be sacrificed upon this venerable stone, let alone the first to perish at my hand."
"She-devil!" The leprechaun flushed with anger. "What kind of woman are ye to threaten a helpless babe?"
"I assure you I am quite cold-blooded ... literally." She let the sharpened blade of her ceremonial dagger catch the moonlight. "And the Serpent Brotherhood is hardly known for its benevolence."
"That it's not," the leprechaun muttered darkly. Conceding defeat, he lifted the glamour hiding the pot so that the gold glittered brightly once more. "Very well then. Take your treasure, much good may it do ye."
"Oh, you have no idea what plans I have for this divine prize," she gloated. "Nor does the world beyond this pitiful island. My ambitions are immensely bigger than you, little man!"
At her bidding, the Roman sheathed his sword and strode forward to claim the pot. Grunting beneath the weight of the gold, he placed it on the altar next to the mortal child, who had begun to whimper annoyingly.
Sibella ignored the infant, her gaze fixed only on the treasure before her.
"At last," she exulted. "After so much time and trouble ..."
"Crow over yer spoils later," the leprechaun said, frowning. "I've paid yer ransom. Now give me the child."
Sibella laughed out loud.
"Why should I, sprite?" She placed the blade against the baby's throat. "I still have the upper hand here, not you." She chuckled at his naiveté. "Are all the denizens of this absurd little island so trusting? Or has sentiment simply gotten the better of your judgment?"
The shocked look on the leprechaun's face was almost worth the arduous journey she had endured to reach this moment. The brutal reality of his situation struck him with the force of a battering ram.
"But ... but I gave ye what ye asked for!"
"What I ask for and what I take are often two very different propositions." She looked the dismayed leprechaun over, assessing him as she might a promising piece of livestock. "For all your foolishness, you may prove valuable to me. The Brotherhood is about nothing if not putting magic to good use. It would be a pity to let a creature such as you go to waste."
The blood drained from the leprechaun's previously ruddy face. "You mean to enslave me?"
"Very good. It seems you have a working brain, after all." She turned to the Greek. "Bind him with silver so that he can't escape."
The sprite backed away fearfully. "You cannot do this. I won't allow it!"
"You would prefer I sate my hunger on this tasty tidbit?" She licked her lips in expectation, a forked tongue briefly on display. "I confess, all this tiresome haggling has left me quite famished...."
"Fiend!" The leprechaun shook his shillelagh at her. "Ye're not human, ye're not!"
"Not entirely," she admitted, "but look who's talking." A smirk lifted her lips. "So then, will you save yourself ... or the infant?"
"Curse ye," the leprechaun said. "Ye know that's no choice at all." His shillelagh slipped from his fingers, falling to the ground. "Get on with it then. Proceed with your deviltry."
The Roman circled around the sprite and bound his wrists behind his back with a coil of flexible silver wire. The precious metal would not only restrain the leprechaun physically; it would also prevent him from attempting any magical trickery for as long as the silver bound him.
"Do what ye will with me," he said, wincing. "Just spare the babe, for mercy's sake."
"Mercy?" Sibella laughed. "You really are a credulous old fool." The baby started crying, its strident wails grating on the noblewoman's nerves. Sibella ran her hand over the pagan altar once more. "Now that I think of it, it would be rude not to leave some offering at this place. Perhaps a sacrifice is indeed in order, as a courtesy to the old gods...."
She raised the dagger, her mouth watering in anticipation.
"Courtesy?" a familiar voice challenged her. "You always did have a peculiar sense of manners."
A man clad in simple traveling clothes stepped out from behind one of the standing stones across from the altar. His clean-shaven face was youthful in appearance, while his keen gray eyes and thoughtful expression hinted at his scholarly nature. Sandy-blond hair was in need of a comb. A British accent marked him as a stranger to these shores, although Sibella already knew that. Venom all but dripped from her tongue as she recognized him.
* * *
Erasmus emerged from cover, judging that the time for concealment had passed. That Lady Sibella had no intention of sparing the nameless infant was hardly unexpected, yet he had bided his time on the off chance that the exchange between Sibella and the leprechaun would proceed smoothly, thereby removing the baby from jeopardy. It was clear, however, that he could not wait any longer to confront Sibella and her minions, not if he hoped to save the child.
"Milady," he addressed her. "You're a long ways from your usual haunts."
"Travel has its rewards," she replied. "And dare I ask how you came to find me here, at such an inconvenient juncture?"
Erasmus shrugged. "You did your best to conceal your movements, but I managed to intercept a missive to your agents in Byzantium, informing them of your journeys. My compliments, by the way, on the ingeniously devious cipher you employed to protect your message from prying eyes; it took me the better part of a day to crack it."
"A pity it wasn't more challenging," Sibella said acidly.
"Next time employ a dead language somewhat more obscure than ancient Egyptian. Perhaps Akkadian or pre-Adamic," Erasmus said. "From there it was a simple matter to see through the relatively transparent alias you used to book passage to Ireland and to follow you to these famously verdant shores, where your trail was child's play to pick up ... once we won the trust of various observant locals." He kept talking, to distract Sibella from her innocent hostage. "If it's any consolation, you may flatter yourself that you and your entourage are hardly inconspicuous, even when traveling incognito. There was bound to be talk among the native population of a highborn lady, of foreign extraction, passing through these parts, in suspicious proximity to certain pagan ruins — which, I could hardly fail to notice, happened to be located at the junction of several active ley lines."
In truth, that was the abbreviated version. Catching up with the elusive Serpent had taken considerable effort, a fair amount of luck, and the help of an invaluable local guide.
"How doggedly persistent of you," Sibella observed. "But you said 'we' before." She looked past Erasmus at the looming monoliths behind him. "May I assume that the redoubtable Deidre is joining us as well?"
"You assume correctly, witch." A Pictwoman, of Amazonian proportions, stepped out from behind another standing stone. Her skin dyed blue by woad, she wore a belted wool tunic and leather boots. Intricate tattoos painted her arms and face. Braided brown hair framed her features, while her hands gripped a hardwood staff capped with iron ferrules at both ends. Her voice held the burr of the distant Highlands from which she hailed. "Now step away from that child before I forget that I'm a Guardian, not an assassin."
"And who is going to make me?" Sibella said, flanked by her formidable bodyguards, whom Erasmus recognized from previous clashes with the Brotherhood. Their weapons already drawn, the burly warriors glowered at the intruders like attack dogs on a leash, awaiting only their mistress's command to charge into battle against her enemies. Sibella sneered at Deidre. "You two alone?" "Not alone," a new voice declared. "The righteous are never truly alone."
An older man, wearing a monk's brown robe, joined Erasmus and Deidre. A tonsured cranium testified to his faith and his calling. His weathered, sun-baked features bespoke years spent toiling in the countryside, first as a slave and then as a missionary. More than forty years on Earth had laced his light brown beard with spreading strands of gray. The Good Book hung from his belt in lieu of a weapon. Callused knuckles gripped the handle of a plain iron bell.
"And you are?" Sibella asked.
"Call me Padraic," he said. "And you contaminate this precious land with your unholy presence."
He rang his bell, the clear, clean chimes reverberating across the mountaintop — and having an immediate effect on Sibella. The dagger dropped from her fingers as, screaming in agony, she threw her hands over her ears.
"Silence him!" she shrieked at the men. "Make it stop!"
Unleashed, the warriors charged at Padraic, who kept ringing his blessed bell at the stricken Serpent. Erasmus glanced urgently at his Guardian.
"Leave them to me," she answered. Determination was written on her face, which showed no sign of fear. The painted warrior-woman had proven herself in raids and battle above Hadrian's Wall before being recruited by the Library to defend Erasmus's body and soul. "See to the child."
My thoughts exactly, he thought. With Sibella distressed for the moment, he seized the opportunity to dash to the altar and snatch the frightened infant. His gaze briefly fell upon the glittering pot of gold also resting upon the altar, but his priorities were clear. Keeping Sibella from her prize would have to wait; rescuing the baby was paramount. Cradling the child in his arms, he hurried it away from the altar and out of Sibella's reach.
"There, there," he cooed, attempting to soothe the babe. "I have you."
He was all too aware, however, that the danger was far from past. Looking to his allies, he saw that Deidre was already engaged in battle with Sibella's guards, fighting to keep them from reaching Padraic, who had in turn gone to the aid of the captured leprechaun. Erasmus watched anxiously as Deidre wielded her weapon like the seasoned warrior she was, deflecting the men's attacks with the flame-hardened oak shaft while striking high and low with both ends of it. Profane curses, in both Greek and Latin, sprayed from the guards' lips as they battled to get past her defenses. The Roman swung his short sword, more properly known as a gladius, while the Greek wielded a battle-axe.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Librarians and the Pot of Gold"
Copyright © 2018 Electric Entertainment.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.