Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
 Chapter 25
Conan was on familiar ground in the third kingdom. Many times had his quests brought him to this golden section of the Wide Web of the Worlds where the initiated and the clever could harvest a bounty of useful and reliable information. FirstSearch and the Lip Paint Warrior's black stallion trotted side by side, heads held high, past busy information marketplaces until they reached a round marble temple with a great copper dome. Atop the dome, a gilded statue of "Human Understanding" was lifting her veil looking upward toward the future. 

"Are you sure this is the place?" the Lip Paint Warrior asked as Conan dismounted and tethered his horse to a post . "There are many temples of knowledge in this kingdom. How can you be sure which is the proper one to deliver the AACR2?" 

"I am sure," Conan replied. "Do you not recognize the temple of the Guardians of the AACR2 and the Keepers of the Mysteries of Subject Headings?." 

"I never spent much time in technical services," she confessed as she dismounted and prepared to follow him. Together they climbed the marble stairs, then paused as the tall outer doors swung open to admit them. 

In the entrance hall, a man was taking readings from a collection of weather instruments and recording them in a small book. He was taller than Conan and lighter of frame. He turned from his work at their approach and inquired as to the nature of their business. Conan introduced himself and his companion and explained, briefly, his mission to return the stolen AACR2. 

"Welcome to you, Conan, and your fair companion," the man said, smiling graciously. "Your fame precedes you both. I am called Thomas. Please come with me. You must be tired from your journey and in need of refreshment." 

"It is an honor," the Lip Paint Warrior said, "to meet the Founder of the Temple." 

Thomas bowed to her, then gathered his robes and led them down a corridor decorated with marble busts. When he was far enough ahead not to overhear, the Lip Paint Warrior whispered to Conan, "I can't believe we have been greeted by Thomas himself. Do you think it's true what they say about him having a child with one of the Nubian vestal virgins?" Conan pretended not to hear. 

They came at last to an audience chamber lined with bookcases reaching fifteen feet to the ceiling. They were joined by representatives of the high priest who received the AACR2 with reverence and glee. A page was dispatched and returned shortly with a tray of sandwiches and ale. Their hosts inquired about their journey and Conan recounted its beginning, so long ago, at the Royal Conference on Valuable Information in the capital of the First Kingdom, and how he had subsequently come to wander in the Web. 

"Then there is much news you have not heard," Thomas said, gravely. 

"There has been fighting among the noble houses," a priest with half glasses and a receding hairline explained. "The Order of the Key is independent no more." 

Conan's look of shock prompted the priest to go on. 

"Oh, yes," he said, clasping his hands in his lap and leaning into his story. "Though they long ago drove the competition from their prairie homeland, this success made them arrogant and their arrogance made them enemies of the smaller houses. Yet they were not strong enough to defend themselves when the larger houses coveted their holdings. Those knights that survived the ensuing troubles wear now the maple leaf and serve the Dark Tower." 

Conan thought of the wineskin with the key symbol that had hung from his saddle since the beginning of his journey. "Did any escape?" he asked. 

"It is said that the eldest sons were able to sell their birthright to the Dark Tower and retire in comfort to other parts, but it is mostly rumor." 

Thomas frowned at the bespectacled priest. "And our calling here is to knowledge, not rumor," he said sternly. 

"But there is a more serious threat to the Web," said a rotund priest who until now had concentrated mostly on the sandwiches, "one that threatens to monopolize access to the very ways upon which all must travel here." 

"You speak of William the Conqueror," the Lip Paint Warrior said, "but I had heard that his troops were occupied with the siege of the Lighthouse." 

"While the siege continues," the priest said, "his Explorers have infiltrated the Gates of the Web." 

"Is there no one to turn back this assault?" Conan asked, alarmed. 

"The knights of the Order of Justice, Antitrust Division are leading the charge," said Thomas. 

"Then I must join them," Conan said, his hand moving to rest on the hilt of his sword. 

And so it came to pass that Conan the Librarian went forth to battle and won great glory in the service of freedom of information. But that is another story. 

© 1999, by Hadley V. Baxendale 

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