Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 102

Early the next morning, Tor woke with a start. He had slept on one of the big tables in the library, much to the librarians' amusement. He justified it by explaining that he felt someone should remain close to the doors in case there were more trouble, but in reality he was a big man, and feared to sleep in a smaller bed -- and hated to sleep on the floor.

So, the table it was, and with a couple pillows and copious quilts he slept comfortably and warmly enough. It was, after all, far better than most nights he had spent traveling back and forth for the merchant, under the stars (when he was lucky) or huddled against the driving rain (more common).

A single, bright ray of sunlight had balanced briefly balanced across his eyelids, then scampered off to play with the dust motes. He watched it drift lazily now across the room, catching the shadows and highlighting the glint ...

The glint of what? He rubbed his eyes and looked again. There!

He rolled off the table quietly, and, keeping his eye on the spot so he wouldn't lose it when the light moved, he crept toward the crevice between two bookshelves. Drawing his knife, he gently probed the space.

A click -- and a stale, musty breath of air exhaled from the cache behind the case. He stood and noticed the molding no longer matched smoothly across the top of the cases. He pushed gently, and ...

"I see you found the vault," the old librarian said gently.

Tor whirled around, his heart beating loud enough for the woman to hear. She put a hand on his arm and finished opening the door. It was a small room, full of riches. Tor could only begin to guess the years of labor and dreams that had gathered them to this room.

She gestured with a bony hand, "These are the remnant of a far greater treasure, sent long ago to many lands, and now gathered in close, waiting for the right moment to be returned. We have mentioned it a little bit, but do you remember the story?" She looked long into Tor's eyes.

Tor shook his head, and she sighed, "Only what we have told you, I suppose. Not much reason to have heard more. Though it is this sort of treasure people consider when the word is used, to us and our people there are treasures far greater. Do you still have the cure for your niece?"

Tor nodded and touched the pocket he had placed it in.

"That cure is based on what we have been able to recover so far. It works for our children who have already become ill, but cannot prevent others from being stricken. The treasure you see in this room contains stories and history, comfort, status and pride -- but little else." She gestured helplessly.

"When I was very young, my younger brother was stricken with this illness, and we were helpless to save him. He faded so fast..." She caught herself and stood taller. "I resolved to study and find a way to prevent others from suffering. It was in this pursuit that I met your village doctor... as a young girl, she and her parents visited our land, and though I did not introduce myself to her then I watched her carefully. She was the first person I had met from another land. And I learned..."

Tor waited while the woman collected her thoughts. He looked around the library, at the neatly ordered volumes on the shelves, at the piles of tomes on various tables waiting to be reshelved, at the ledgers waiting to be filled with thoughts. Learning, he thought. Learning because it might be useful someday. It was a new idea, and he turned it over in his head as one might examine a fine object one had been given.

Tor glanced again in the chamber and wondered what had drawn his attention. He looked at the hinges, but they would have been hidden when the door was closed. At the floor... There! half-covered in shadow, obscured by dust, a shiny something.

The woman caught the direction of his gaze, and stooped quickly to retrieve a thin piece of ribbon attached to a small, flat key.

They stood in silence for a moment, then the woman's tired, drawn face erupted in a dazzling smile.

"The key to many treasures," she murmured, "Not lost after all!"