Every six or nine months there’s a big market that comes to town. They have a very large variety of wares consisting of just about anything you can think of. You can pay in coin, but few of us use coins, so instead we barter, offering our own items that we’ve either made or crafted or have to offer. The market lasts a full week and is always a time for celebration and jollity. For a massive exchange of goods is taking place both for the residents of the town and for the market sellers. There is also a bounty of news and stories from far and wide. Each night the pubs and inns are teeming with life, laughter, and entertainment.
I had little intention of acquiring anything. Just walked the market stalls and keeping my eye out for anything interesting. Perhaps a you for one of my grandchildren, or a gift for my wife. Towards the end of one of the aisles of the town square, somewhat secluded, was a monk who I recognized by his dress. On his frail stall were a number of parchments and texts. Beneath were a few storage chests containing more of the same.
I came up to him and struck up a conversation as I eyed the written works. They seemed to be all religious in nature, which was what I had expected to find. The priory the monk attended had come on hard times and was trying to raise some money for repairs. He even said a number of the texts had been scripted and copied at his priory by fellow monks. I asked if he had any illuminated manuscripts, but he said no, as I thought. They had some at the priory, but were decreed too valuable and precious to part with, let alone sell so that the monks might live a little more comfortably.
Another monk, from our parish in fact, came up and the two began talking energetically. At this point I bent down to examine the texts in the storage chests. One contained books, all religious again. The other contained only parchments. I search through them, seeing much of the same as I already had. And then at the very bottom I snagged a slim volume. I studied it at first, noting the cover and how it appeared to be made of vellum like the other books, but then I looked at the actual binding and felt my mouth drop open. It was well done. Too well done in fact. And by that I mean involved an ability and technology that no one of the eleventh century possessed. This work seemed to have come from centuries in the future. How could this be?
How much for this item? I asked. The monk seemed annoyed to have to pause his intense conversation. He looked at the volume, took it from my hands and thumbed through the pages, then tossed it back to me. He quoted me a price of a few coins, which I could easily pay, saying it was written in a language no one could understand. He was quite sure it was complete gibberish. I did my best to hide my excitement, paid him with the coins I had on me, then went on my way. The two monks continued their intense chatter without another look my way.
I grasped the volume close to my chest, as if I were holding on to a great secret; for in a way I believed I was. I thought about where I could go to read what I had discovered. Not home: my wife would be there. Not my work: it would be too busy. So I chose to leave town through a small and rarely used gate and was able to slip out without being seen by anyone. I climbed up and down a few hills until I felt there was enough distance between me and anybody else who might recognize me. And then I found a tree to grant me some shade on this warm summer’s day, and drew the book from within my tunic and gazed upon it.
Again I marveled at the impressive trickery of the cover, making it seem like a book that was much older than it actually was. Once more I turned it in ,my hands, studying the binding and seeing the impossible perfection. How I wished I knew more of the binding of books and the printed word. If I had been back in the Ostium Network, it would’ve been easy to pull up this information and learn of the history of these subjects. But alas. And then I paused for some time, for I had not thought of Ostium or the Ostium Network in a considerable amount of time. Over a decade I should think.
Then I finally opened the book and gasped. It was not a printed book as I had come to expect with the expertise of the binding. But then if it had truly been a printed book it would’ve been seen as a work of magic. A thing that was not possible and could not be, and would’ve likely been declared an act of witchery or the work of Satan and soon burned to ashes.
Nevertheless, the written works inside were in a style I had not seen in all the parchments and books I had read and even gazed upon from this time I was now living in.
It was written in my language of the twenty-second century.
It was a written cipher.