Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 101

Tor scratched at the stubble on his face. Though he maintained a sort of beard, he trimmed it often to keep his appearance more youthful than he might otherwise have seemed. Untrimmed, he began to look more like a wild bear than a man. And he preferred to not startle young women or scare children...

The younger woman was clearing the table now, looking tired and grim. Her hands shook as she set a mug of bracing warm wine before him, and he put a large worn paw across hers before she could withdraw it.

Looking at her young face, Tor remembered how Gilly had appeared the day Paul had first announced he wanted to travel, to seek out his origins. The uncertainty had been unnerving.

"Miss," he began, a trifle more gruffly than he had anticipated, then continued in a softer tone, "This night, these events -- the quest you anticipate -- must seem very strange to you, growing up among the quiet books of this building."

She looked at him gratefully, and withdrew her hand as she sat down in the empty chair next to him. The older woman turned from the ribbons she was arranging on the table and listened.

"I cannot promise you what will happen -- 'twould be foolish to anticipate too far into the future -- but I will assure you that I will do what I can to prevent harm from coming to you or to your aunt." He took a drink of the wine, and smiled as it's warmth comforted his rather panicked stomach.

The young woman smiled, her teeth like Esmeralda's or the librarian's -- or indeed the Visitor's -- perfectly straight and rather pointed. She was quite pretty when she smiled, And Tor considered that Esmeralda must have looked very much like that at the same age.

"Aunt, I do believe we were right to trust this man. Perhaps we should explain a bit more?"

The older woman nodded, and Tor cleared his throat.

"Might I start by asking your names? And how do you fit into the picture of my family? You showed me in your book how my brother-in-law and the doctor are related, but I see in your faces that there is more. "

"As indeed, there is," replied the elder woman, "I am called Ysbel, my niece as you guessed is Carlota. We are from the same land as your brother-in-law, and from the village of Esmeralda's father. However, we came on our own, with a mission that I suspect you have already guessed."

Tor nodded, "This scattered treasure, the one the ribbons will reveal?"

"Precisely. It is our hope that, with the ribbons, we can restore the treasures -- and the good fortune -- of our land," Carlota responded, "The illness I suffered, that many of us have suffered, only appeared after the Keep's treasure was scattered. We believe that something important was lost, and we hope..." she trailed off expectantly.

Tor nodded and finished the mug of wine. Looking around the kitchen he noted the comforting sights and smells. The crackling logs on the fire with the kettle pulled off to one side on its hook, the herbs dangling from the rafters, the churn in a corner opposite the fire... The windows to the kitchen were curiously high placed, but had provided plenty of light earlier in the day. Now he thought how similarly the building was to some forts he had been through on his journeys.

"You said, I think, this had once been a stable... yet I believe the configuration seems more like a fort than anything. How else to explain the strong doors and solid walls? Do you know how old this building is?"

Ysbel grinned, "Far older than you might imagine, as indeed am I... I supervised the construction of this library, knowing that it should be able to hold, and defend, great treasure some day." Her smile faded, "That was long before Carlota or Esmeralda were born though, and it has been much longer than anyone anticipated."

"And obviously, it was not so well defended tonight."

Carlota got to her feet, "Now Aunt, you could not have foreseen this. And we are fortunate indeed that we were not there, unharmed we have a chance to find and recover what was stolen. Thanks to Mr. Adamson, we are secure again and have time to prepare still."

Tor grumbled, "I'd much prefer to be called Tor -- I am far from respectable enough for Mister!"

The older woman put a hand on his shoulder as she also stood, "Thank you Tor, for your help and comfort today. We are fortunate that you arrived with the cargo intact."

Tor was confused, then shook his head as if to clear it after a long night in a tavern.

"Do you mean, you were expecting me all along? I was told the cargo was for a merchant much further north."

Carlota laughed, a light, springlike sound, and winked at her Aunt, "That was to confuse anyone who might have been trying to follow. The merchant we contacted was told only to be sure that the cargo arrived here... and to send it with a resourceful man who would think to find a buyer when the ship made port."

Tor was still confused, "Then the ship was going to pull in here? The captain knew all along?"

"Oh no," corrected Ysbel, "The captain was attempting to go further, but we arranged a sluggish week to delay his barque enough that making port was a better idea. Weather is hard to create, but not hard to dispel if one knows how."

Tor's amazement showed in so many ways -- the expression in his eyes, the turn of his head, the way his hands worked nervously at the mug in front of him.

Carlota took pity on him, "Tor, you know that our people have much knowledge... there is no mystery to it but it takes long years of study. We do not generally do these things, but sometimes it is necessary for a short time. There was never any danger to the ship -- or to you."

An idea broke through Tor's racing mind, "So if there was so much secrecy, the captain did not know, I did not know... WHO knew that I had brought my cargo here? WHO broke in?"

Ysbel quietly, and sadly, replied, "I think we know the answer to that. The real question is, why -- and what did they hope to gain?