Edmund loved to read.
Mrs. Mapleberry was not an avid reader herself, only sporadically flipping through strange adult novels that had watercolor pictures of men with no shirts on the cover. She did her best to keep her orphans well-read, however, keeping a lopsided bookshelf in the hallway full of ancient ragged children’s books from generations ago given as donations from wealthy estates. As such, the closest thing to a library the orphanage had was no more than ten or twenty ragged and sagging books sitting quietly in the dust.
Edmund had read them all, often times more than once. Not because he enjoyed them, however, but because they confused him so terribly. He could never quite understand why the wolf was still so hungry after eating an entire grandmother, or how a cat could wear boots without falling over. And even when he ignored the parts that didn’t make sense, there was never anything about what happened after. The reader never learned what happened to the kingdom with its new king and queen, or if the recently saved farm lasted for years or succumbed to a drought the next Spring. So he read the books over and over again, searching for some piece of information that would finally reveal itself and make sense of the entire story.
The only story he really enjoyed was a long epic retelling of a story from long ago–the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, though he would have liked it more without the silly romance story between the queen and the king’s friend. Even with some of the strange bits, he loved reading about the good and handsome knights who rode off to fight against evil bandits, ugly monsters, and saved the land for the honor of their king. The king even died at the end, so there wasn’t any part of his story that wasn’t told. The good knights were kind and just, while the evil monsters were cruel and greedy. It felt right to him, and he knew almost the entire book by heart.
Then, one winter, Edmund found a stack of books next to the fireplace where the wood was usually piled. Mrs. Mapleberry had deemed them Not Fit For Children, and thrown them there with the intent to use them as kindling. They were the thickest books that Edmund had ever seen, and he was curious as to what stories could possibly be so long.
So, one afternoon he stole one and hid it away in his trunk to read late at night when the other Lads had all gone to bed and Mrs. Mapleberry had closed the door of her small office for the night.
The book was titled ‘A Guyde to The Humours of the Physicale Bodye,’ by Sir Knickle Prickleston, Ph. D, MDA, RMD, ZMA, Ph. A, AMAZ. It was thick and the words were small, but Edmund flipped through anyway because there were pictures in it.