by Amy Bertacco
A building is only a building until it means something to someone. I was nothing until the people of Alexandria, from all walks of life, began to come to me for help, for a better understanding of the world as they knew it. It was only then that the true value of what I was, and what I held, came to be. Everything I ever contained had a reason to be there, not a single word was misplaced or lost, nor were they ever forgotten, only concealed. The secret truths and mysteries of the universe contained within the words were created for everyone, but not everyone knew its true existence.
A lot of my Library was open, with delicate archways that introduced people into each room. Most held books, but there were also reading rooms with ornate chairs, dining rooms with long wooden tables big enough to host twenty, and rooms for teaching the works I held and protected. Everyone was always welcome to come and look around, flip the pages of the books or wander aimlessly through the gardens. Gilded books disguised paintings that revealed hidden stories and buried truths, the words themselves had meaning deeper than their superficial value. Twisting pathways led to large rooms of stone and marble that wereall kept pristine and held in such high regard that no one ever dared to dirty anything, but more importantly, it was clear that the artefacts were loved and well used. The books on the shelves had broken spines and their cloth binding was worn down as each person touched it. The people of Alexandria cared for me; the scholars needed me to add to their growing wisdom of the world, so I was a place to shelter them in return.
Everything changed the day Julius acted upon his greed. Gusts of wind whistled as the blaze went on its way. The sunlight caught the subtle movement of the floating dust, making the light appear golden. Never had a threat been made towards my books, or had their very existence challenged.
From a distance the flames looked small, big enough to burn the wooden boats but not enough to make it past the shore. Yet, the flickering orange flames never ceased; they only grew, spreading from the ships onto the grass, then directly towards me. The life of fire is one of mass destruction; if I were to be destroyed, I would rather find the beauty in the destruction. For as ruinous as fire is, with its savage roaring flames, it leaves behind a path for new growth and life to take over. It ravages everything in its way – so sure of what it is supposed to do and the path it needs to take. It’s hard to be mad at something that is only doing what it has been told. But fire was never the issue – Julius, the man who lit it, was.
When Julius first came to visit me, he stayed for hours; the sun rose and set with him reading. He was the first, and only, person to ever read the words for what they were. Nobody had ever taken the words and put them together the way Julius did. He solved the puzzle that was never meant to be solved. He was a clever man, no matter how ridiculously self-centred. The books on my shelves told secrets and mysteries of the world that were paramount to the history of the future as it was created, and for Julius, leaving it alone was a risk he was unwilling to take. When power was at play, he needed to have it all, no matter how treacherous or abominable. Once he had understood what my books held within them, he felt an agonising need to be the sole owner of the secrets of the world. Ever since he found out, his mind had been turning. He never told anyone what he saw, but his eyes gave it all away. He walked with such calculation and resolution, that it all became a waiting game thereafter.
The crippling inferno began in the garden that encompassed my every corner. Flowers, from subtle violets to bright yellow sunflowers, became mere remnants of their former selves; all turned into the colour of death itself – black and grey clouds of ash scattered where they once thrived. The blaze took the life of the garden without a second thought. There was no turning back after that.
“We have to leave. The fire is gaining on our home!”
“Theodosia, she’s gone. I’m sorry but we need to leave it all behind.”
“Mother… what’s happening?” asked a young boy.
“I don’t know, but we can’t stay,” she replied, tears not falling from her eyes, but her fear evident in her voice.
When the fire was set, they all left, because of course they should leave. The burning papyrus pages created smoke unlike anything they had seen before. Ashes scattered their own homes and ruined what they had created for themselves.
Without my plethora of books and insight into literature, art, history, botany, and things beyond what people could comprehend, they had nothing to spare outside their homes. The fire caused destruction beyond what they were capable of repairing.
I was told I would never be destroyed. With each new addition to my Library came a promise that was never to be broken: that the books I kept would not be copied and taken elsewhere. It was pertinent that nothing knocked me down, that everything I had would always be shielded; but alas, the flames are upon me. I was now more fire and ash than I was peace and knowledge. All the unknown mysteries of humanity was erased from its own history. Moments in time depicting memories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, separation and unity, they all turned into be dark, scant flakes of what they once were, or were supposed to be.
The world will never be as it should have been, and Julius is to blame. He would be lucky that history will tell our story as an accident, a plague of lies concealing treasure of a value unknown to all.