Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 106

Tor was getting a bit tired of waiting. The library's doors gleamed in the waning sunlight this evening. He liked how the carvings hid the many bits and pieces of iron he had worked in to prevent it splintering or yielding to an axe. He ran his hands once more over the solid handles, concealing rods on both sides. They could bar the doors on either side and prevent either entry or, he chuckled as he considered the possibility, the exit of thieves.

Carlota came up beside him, her thin arms wrapped around a soft bundle. She smiled gaily, and pointed at the center panel of one door, "That looks almost exactly like the story of the people who ran from the earthslides and found a new mountain!" Tor nodded, recalling the moment of recognition when, during one night's storytelling, he heard the story of his people's flight to their mountain home... from a different perspective.

Ysbel called from inside, "Tor! A trunk!" And he obediently excused himself, leaving Carlota to load her bundle into the cart.

The old librarian was looking spry, wearing a shorter skirt that revealed sturdy traveling boots. She tapped the toe of one boot impatiently. "Tor, we have so many things to load before we leave. Already the light begins to fade. We need to be aboard before the moons come up!"

He grinned impishly and hefted the trunk with one hand, looking around for something else to carry. Seeing nothing, he hoisted Ysbel under the arm and strode toward the door.

"Brute! Carlota! Help!" Ysbel squawked, drawing Carlota inside. Tor set her down gently by the door and tried to look innocent.

Though Ysbel was easily as old as Esmeralda, she was far less severe, Tor thought, enjoying a good pratfall or joke as much as any tavern-keeper. He knew that it had been many decades since Ysbel's youth -- indeed, since her maturity -- and had taken to teasing her good-naturedly as he might his sisters. There were no other people with whom she was comfortable enough to joke...

Ysbel frowned and settled her skirts. Tor shuffled his feet uncomfortably, and her expression softened a bit. "Tor, I know you mean well, but you must remember from this point on that you are my servant while we travel. It would be awkward if people asked questions about our purpose if the story doesn't hold up."

They settled the trunk on the cart and walked back through the library one last time, Tor checking the windows and doors to be sure all was secure, Ysbel trotting along beside his huge strides, reminding him (not unlike a worried hen, he noted uncharitably) of the plan. She was a wealthy widow, travelling south for her retirement, to live with her distant cousin on the mountain. Tor and his daughter had been engaged to travel with her for security and to handle the chores. In payment Ysbel would "teach" Carlota and set them up in business once they reached their destination. On board the ship, Tor would mingle with the sailors, attempting to learn anything about the thieves who had grabbed the final two books, while Carlota and Ysbel would study the texts, trying to discover anything they had missed.

They would stop only once, to visit Tor's niece who had married the merchant. Gilly's daughter was known for her excellent needle-work, and she and her husband would be a good source of goods for the "business." They would also be able to keep safe the more delicate items Ysbel had wanted to protect. For, despite their efforts and Tor's improvements, they still feared the return of the thieves. Tor was looking forward to seeing her and giving her the most up-to-date news of her family. He considered what he might tell her of her father...

And was drawn back to the present moment by Ysbel pulling at his elbow.

"Tor! Have you heard a word I have said the last three minutes? Your head is somewhere else, as usual."

He shrugged and repeated the last few sentences of her lengthy instructions. Ysbel glowered at him. His ability to listen with one ear and focus on a completely different task was highly unusual, and she was not used to it. Nor was she certain how much he retained when his eyes got that look in them. Still...

She nodded and moved toward the main doors, gesturing for Tor and Carlota to follow.

"We'll leave, then. Tor, you can bar the door, then slip out the secret panel when I knock. We don't want anyone to know your work-around!"

Carlota grinned and a giggle escaped. Tor's plan had been so simple, and so beautiful. Rather than invest in a lock that could be picked, he had reinforced the main door, making it appear to be the only way in or out... and then had set a secret panel a few feet down that opened with a secret -- but unlocked -- latch.

Ysbel returned her smile, and they stepped through, into the street. The cart was loaded, their bundles well secured, with traveling bags atop what appeared to be ordinary merchant boxes and bales. No horse, since Tor was strong and the cart small -- and the docks close by. It would appear they were being frugal, avoiding the expense of a horse on board ship, but the truth was that Tor knew it was easier to follow a horse's track through the city or on a country road. Once they had reached his niece's city, they would get a bigger cart, and ride from there behind a horse.

But first, they needed to disappear...

Ysbel and Carlota stopped a moment as they turned the corner onto the main street, and, praying silently to their gods for success, looked one last time upon their home.