Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
Chapter 11
Conan left the cavern of the Webmasters feeling disappointed. The Wide Web of the Worlds was vast and uncharted, a presence in the domain of information that had grown rapidly and randomly with no regard for the traditions of the priestly orders of cataloging and classification who held their sacred rites in the Temples of Knowledge. Worse yet, much of it had sprung up recently while Conan had been on other adventures. What he knew of the Web came from short forays to well-traveled spots near its borders and what professional reading he had been able to catch up on evenings in the temples along his way. Now he faced the most difficult of WWW quests, to find the kingdom in the center of the Web, a mysterious realm of legendary wealth and power, full of information treasures. 

But how to find it? As he rode down the mountain, Conan puzzled over the words of the Webmasters. Follow the golden links, they had said. By this, he assumed they meant the hyperways which facilitated travel through the Web. He had used the hyperways maintained and organized by the temple at Ithaca in the past, but no one there had been able to help him on this journey. He would have to seek the golden links elsewhere. 

FirstSearch picked his way down the steep, path. As they descended, barren rocks gave way to forest, the land eventually leveled and the path widened. Finally, the forest gave way to fields, woods and hedgerows. The path became a country road of packed red clay. Ahead to Conan's left, the sun was rising into a clear blue sky above a wood of oak, aspen and pine. The air was moist with morning and thick with the autumn smell of fields being turned under by the plow for winter. Small birds sang as they flitted over the hedgerows and in and out of the woods. FirstSearch paused whenever he spied a patch of sweet clover growing at the edge of the road. 

Conan urged him on. He would have to reach the next village, he reasoned, before he would find any useful hyperways, much less golden ones. In the distance was a marker at a crossroads. It seemed a logical place to start. 

Absorbed in his thoughts, Conan did not immediately hear the sounds of hoof beats and the baying of hounds. FirstSearch lifted his head and twitched his ears. The noise was growing louder. Looking back across the fields Conan saw a wave of orange, black and white rising over hedgerows and rolling over fields, baying as it came. The hounds were followed by horses and riders. The sound of a horn split the air. FirstSearch sidestepped nervously and Conan eased him to the side of the road near the woods. 

As it became apparent that they lay in the path of the hunters, Conan urged his mount to a trot and made for the intersection and its sign post. The thunder of hooves and paws swelled louder and the sharp smell of dust was in the air. Conan found shelter between two large trees growing so close to the crossroads he could almost touch the signpost. As FirstSearch stamped and snorted, Conan noticed the signpost had not only wooden arms pointing direction and distance to various villages and towns, but also carved in its central shaft a series of glowing words and pictures, links to the hyperways of the Web. 

The hounds reached the field on the other side of the road. They bayed and howled running in aimless circles and up and down the hedgerow bordering the road. The riders vaulted the last hedgerow into the field, cursing and shouting for the hounds to find the scent again as their horses danced impatiently. Conan grinned at the confusion, for he always had secret sympathy for the quarry in any hunt. He almost did not see the streak of red that blurred from the corner of the hedgerow across the road and came to rest on the horn of the saddle before him. 

FirstSearch jumped straight up and landed on all four feet at once within a hair's breadth of the signpost. The baying chorus rose in excited crescendo and poured over the hedgerow and across the road. Conan gaped at the visitor clinging to his saddle, who grinned back, pink tongue panting out of a pointed snout, yellow/brown eyes twinkling with fear and amusement. 

"Any port in a storm," the creature said, reaching out a black paw to touch a glowing link on the signpost. Before Conan could answer, the world vanished into grey with a whoosh of air that made his ears pop. The sharp scent of ozone tingled in his nose as the hyperway swallowed them up into the Web. 

© 1996, by Hadley V. Baxendale

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