Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 104

Carlota could barely remember when she had not lived with her aunt, in the big, fortress-like building filled with books and maps and boxes of papers and other ephemera saved for generations. It was amazing, really, how much survived floods, fires and the restlessness of generations.

Her favorite sections were the stories of people, and the songs. She could read most musical notation, though she couldn't sing or play a note she knew what the songs were supposed to sound like... and she would sit for hours, hearing them in her heart.

While other young girls were learning to cook and sew, Carlota was discovering the nuances of argument used by sages. While other young women were creating their hope chests and learning a trade, Carlota was cataloguing collections and learning new languages. When other young women started their families, Carlota started a small school down by the docks for the sailors and deckhands.

Her gamble had paid off. Though they thought her peculiar, in learning to read, they had begun to appreciate what they saw in their journeys, and they began to bring her little gifts and treasures.

Her aunt watched her growth with joy and pride. The calling to learning was not unusual in their people, but the dedication her niece exhibited was quite remarkable. Her parents would have been proud, she mused, and a pang of sorrow that they had not lived to see it caught her unawares at odd moments as the young librarian marked milestones and discoveries.

Three years before, on the longest day of the year Carlota left childhood behind, the two had celebrated with a rare treat: a look in the treasure room. Ysbel had pulled out a small casket with Carlota's name on it in old writing and handed it to her with a flourish, "This was your great-great grand mother's, and before she died she said that it should belong to you."

Carlota had laughed, knowing that her venerable ancestress had died many long years before her parents had married. But Ysbel looked at her with a strange expression and repeated the words, adding, "Our people, and our family in particular, often know things long before they happen. Though I do not share this trait, I have seen it often enough. Take care that you do not dismiss unexamined things you do not yet understand."

And so they had reverently set the inlaid box on one of the large tables, examining first the beautiful decorations and then finding the hidden latch.

Inside, a treasure only a librarian would appreciate: a hand-written history of their family, beginning with their arrival in their aerye near-countless generations before, ending with the birth of Carlota's mother, Ysbel's youngest sister. The aerye and other settlements of their people traced families through the maternal line, but this book was unusual in following all the lines back to the earliest males as well.

Very few understood the writing, fewer still could have understood the importance of this treasure. It established Carlota's right to the far-flung treasures, as the last surviving member of a long line of rulers.

Carlota had taken the casket and book back to her room, and had gone over it meticulously over the next many weeks, occasionally appearing for meals, or to do further research in the library. Ysbel let her do her work in peace, continuing to shelve books, assist people in locating materials, and mending the older and less well-maintained volumes in the collections.

Finally, Carlota emerged, paler from lack of fresh air and exercise, but with a satisfied look.

"I have found the last of the treasures, I believe, in a city far to the south." Adding with a laugh, " It is books!"

And so the older librarian had begun her search, finally contacting the merchant who employed Tor.

Patiently, the two women had waited for the shipment to be secured; hopefully, they had anticipated its arrival; joyfully they had arrived on the dock to load the precious cargo into the rickety cart they had hired.

And now, with Tor's discovery of the ribbon and its key -- which must have fallen out of one of the last unopened volumes as they were roughly shoved into sacks -- the two women would spend the next few weeks deciphering the text and locating the final piece of information.

Tor waited with them, slowly and carefully -- meticulous in his own fashion -- improving the library's shelves and doors, restoring the systems and setting all to rights. He wanted to leave the building more secure than he had found it. All those years working with his father were paying off.

And in more ways than he knew.