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February 28th, 2021
The flooded cleft of the nib closed as it’s pressure on the page lessened and lifted, leaving a perfect winnowed curve. A final serif. Lucilius returned the pen to the ornate holder where his ink well was enshrined in carved wood. He closed the metal cap to protect the ink, and then looked over his work.
The page was a perfection of design. He bent down close to the paper, as he would while writing and looked at each and every letter. There were no mistakes.
He sat until the page was dry, having long known the look of ink in its different stages on the page. Knowing the bleed of this particular mixture - his own in fact, perfected over the years of his apprenticeship.
The sheen and shade settled and Lucilius picked up the document. He opened the heavy wooden door to his tiny room and left down the quiet hall, the footfalls on stone echoing lightly.
He brought the page to the master’s quarters, but the man was outside his own study, pacing, agitated. He did not notice Lucilius until he was but a step away, with the sheet of paper proffered. The man glanced quickly at Lucilius’ face, taking the paper. And for a moment, the man’s agitation was gone, his pacing cured. His eyes were enveloped in an old process, scanning, the forms and shapes. But all too quickly he handed the sheet back and started pacing again.
Confused, Lucilius just waited, wondering. The man took a few more steps before seeing Lucilius unmoved.
“You have passed, you will receive your first batch of work tomorrow along with your first pay.”
Lucilius was overjoyed, having long awaited this moment. But something still didn’t sit right with him. Perhaps it was the quick, cursory words, the fact that the long awaited moment had none of the celebration and pomp that Lucilius had been lead to expect and dream of. Or perhaps it was simply that the man before him seemed so worried.
“Is everything ok?”
The man stopped, as though realizing again Lucilius had still not left. “Johannes.. the fiend, he’s done it.”
The man was silent a moment. “An old friend," he said softly.
“What has he done?”
The man nodded toward his study, and Lucilius followed, walking into the luxurious room where on the desk there was a book. It was somehow different, Lucilius could see instantly, but for a moment he could not figure it out. He leaned in to the open page, looking at the letters, somehow strange, somehow inhuman. Lucilius’s skilled eye could see known of the subtle marks of ink doubled up where serifs branched, where letter limbs crossed and joined. It’s perfection was deeply unsettling for Lucilius. Somehow it seemed to represent everything he had been striving for, and yet the result was ugly, horrid and an offence.
He turned to the master scribe who now stood at his side.
“What is this?”
“Devil’s work, Johannes has made his press. He thinks he will strip us of our pride but this can never achieve what we do.” Though the man spoke quietly he was shaking with anger.
“A press?” Lucilius asked.
The man merely shook his head.
And all at once it occurred to Lucilius. His sense of disgust fuelled by so many years of work, so many pained hours of imperfection and striving, to do what could now be done in an instant. He had known what that book meant the moment he’d seen it. What he’d taken for ugly repulsed him only because it made a joke of this life’s work now culminated. He’d been wrong. But it was no matter, Lucilius knew. He smiled lightly, and the Master scribe’s brow furrowed in confused disgust.
Months later, Lucilius squinted up at the bright sun. His pay had long run out and the journey had been long, but he was pleased, grateful to live during such an exciting time. The cold air felt fresh in his lungs as he picked up his small pack to make the final trek into the new city. It was there after much asking that he finally found what he was looking for. When he entered his eyes adjusted to fill with the sight of a contraption he’d never seen, as though collaged from so many things he’d seen built over the years, but this one, a machine being fed paper. Someone paused from the work and asked about him.
“I’m here to help with your press,” Lucilius said, knowing he stood on the precipice of the future, knowing what torrent would soon flood the world by way of a new idea that had finally taken as it’s genius the spread of other ideas.
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