Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Ninety Seven

Tor's cargo was unloaded, a bit less carefully than he would have liked, but still it was on the dock, little the worse for the wear. He had managed to find a buyer in good time, and full payment had been made as the wagon was backed up to receive its load.

He stood now with the buyer, a nervous looking woman who kept rubbing her hands on her cheeks as if worried the muffins might burn before she got home. Still, she had seemed knowledgeable about the nature of the goods when he had inquired at the library, and eager to see for herself the small volume he carried in his coat pocket.

She had lovingly stroked the book's worn cover, and paged through nostalgically before returning it to him and asking where she might find him.

In less than two hours, she had met up with him as he sat outside a bar dockside, a rickety wagon drawn by a sturdy pony, a young woman -- birdlike also -- at the reins.

Both women inspected the cargo carefully, the sailors gathered around at a not completely respectful distance. As the women held up one after another, though, the crew finally lost interest and wandered off. The captain continued to observe from a distance.

"This one, now," said the elder woman, "talks about the history of the bird people. It appears to be a copy of an older work. See this phrase here? Not used much by the date the author gives."

The younger woman nodded, a couple of large volumes clasped to her not ample breast. Tor waited until the captain looked away before he pointed out a thin green strip of ribbon that pulled out of the spine.

The women's eyes grew wide, but they kept their voices to a normal pitch. When the captain looked again, they were packing the books back into the crate and handing Tor a worn but full money pouch. Tor's look of glee was easily attributed to actually unloading the lackluster stuff.

Or so the captain thought... he was happy just to be paid the last half of the promised fare and see Tor off with his dufflebag. The swaggering strong man had unnerved the not entirely honest sailor, and he was pleased to be quit of him.

As pleased as Tor was to be quit of the boat.

The elder woman glanced down at Tor's bundle and stopped rubbing her cheeks, as if having finally decided. Indeed she had.

"Sir, my niece and I would be pleased if you spent the night with us. The library has extra quarters and it would be an easy thing to put you up, and spare you the inconvience and," she sniffed, "unhygienic conditions of the local inns."

Tor thought a bit longingly of the vast quantities of good ale those unhygienic inns served, but the women reminded him of Ava -- and Esmeralda -- so he agreed.

He tossed his duffle into the back of the wagon and walked alongside, listening to the elder woman speak of the history of the various places (and not a few of the people) they passed. He was surprised to hear a few references to people from his own village, but kept that to himself.

Back at the library, he carried armfuls of books from the wagon to a big table in a side room. Back and forth, back and forth, the elder woman hovering nervously, the younger woman carrying smaller loads. The wagon cleared, the young woman drove it back to the stable it was hired from and Tor sat in a comfortable old chair while the librarian began to sort the books.

He fell asleep in the chair, waking when the light in the windows was already dim and the smell of fresh bread was wafting in from another room. He stirred, and stretched, and from behind a pile of loose papers the older woman said, "About time you showed up again, Mister Adamson!"

Startled, he sat up, as she came around the table with a journal in her hand.

"Oh, don't get all upset, my boy," she chortled, "It's not many folk who arrive here with your manner of speech and dress, and fewer still who peddle books and know what's in them. Your village doctor, Esmeralda and I spent some time together as young women learning our trades, and still keep in touch."

She grinned, exposing perfectly straight, if a tad pointy, teeth. The last rays of the sun gave her head a silvery halo and she turned and gestured toward the kitchen. "Go on in, and I'll catch up with you on all the news in a few minutes. This journal holds a list of the ribbons we should find, and I want to put the volumes in order to make it easier to search."

Tor moved to the door docilely, then turned back. "Ma'am, if you knew who I was all along?" The rest of the question floated in the air.

"Not all along, but soon enough, I suppose. You look a bit like your father did, many years ago. Though I dare say you are a bit more of a rogue, if what I hear is true." She looked at him as if undecided whether to like him or tolerate him.

Tor nodded and put his hand on the door, "I suspect you have heard enough of the truth to be able to form your own opinions."

The librarian chuckled, and shooed him off with a distracted wave. So many books, so little time... so many ribbons to find. She knew time was short.

But how short, she was blissfully unaware.