The duty Librarian

Lianna walked away from the Arms-Captain listening for the click of the door closing, and it still hadn't come by the time she'd walked past the doorway of the first reading room, a cosy room with two desks, lamps and chairs in.  She permitted herself the glow of self-satisfaction briefly, but didn't look back.  She was pretty certain that the Arms-Captain wouldn't have given much time to most of the rumours that had sprung up about her, but he would be curious to know if the one about her having a Frostbane sword was true.  Which is was, but she was denying it to everyone, well aware of what kind of a target that would make her.

And that, in large part, was why she was here, with credentials she'd bribed a Syndicate steward for and only a vague idea of what she was looking for.  The Vaillart Library was private, owned by the Syndicate, and entrance was normally only permitted to members of the Syndicate and their staff, visiting dignitaries, and properly-approved scholars.  Her papers made her out to be a military historian researching armour and weapons used in the Hobgoblin Wars, all of which was true apart from the historian bit.  She'd stood over the steward as he'd made out the papers, dictating what she wanted to appear on them so that she could be certain of being able to answer any questions that might arise, and stood back and watched as he applied Syndicate seals and artfully forged the Secretary's signature.

She passed two more reading rooms, and then the corridor ended with another door, which she opened and went through, into the Reading Hall.  This room was large and airy, panelled with wood from floor to ceiling, and illuminated by means of large windows high up in the walls and candelabrae lower down.  There were fourteen desks laid out in two rows of seven, with a longer table at the far end of the hall where the duty Librarian sat.  Behind the table was a pinch-faced man, undoubtedly the duty Librarian, and a young boy sat behind him; a runner to fetch books for the readers.  On either side of the hall was a bookcase, wide and short but still holding more books on a shelf than Lianna had seen gathered into one place before.  Two of the desks were already occupied, both with men who looked aged beyond their years who were making notes on small pieces of paper.

Lianna walked quietly down to the duty Librarian's desk, her calf-leather boots inaudible on the stone floor.  The pinch-faced man looked up, his eyes half-closed and one side of his face drooping.  Lianna wondered if he'd had a stroke or maybe a palsy.

"Good afternoon," she said, and her voice rang loudly in the otherwise silent room.  "I'm looking for books on the Hobgoblin wars," she said, lowering her voice a lot.

"Another one, eh?" said the duty Librarian leering at her.  "But you're definitely the prettiest one in a while.  Eh, boy?  Don't you think?"  He flapped a hand behind him at the young boy while his eyes never left Lianna.  The boy looked up, blushed, and looked back down at his shoes again.

"Another one?" Lianna's tone hardened automatically, wondering who had beaten her to the punch.

"Oh we get your sort in here all the time, though not as pretty obviously!"  He laughed, a wet, phlegmatic sound that quickly degenerated into a spluttering cough.  "There's always someone hoping that the Frostbane swords survived the Hobgoblin wars, or thinking that there might be instructions on how to make a new one.  There aren't you know, you're wasting your time.  You might as well just leave now."

"I'm sure that if a Frostbane sword had survived it would be well guarded," said Lianna.  "I'd be very surprised if a library had the location of one just lying around on its shelves for anyone to find."

"Hah, you got that right!  If it were that easy, well, we'd replace the books with Frostbanes and hire them out to people!"

"Nonetheless," Lianna said firmly, "I'm still interested in the war and the battles fought, the tactics used and the strategies employed.  Where might I find these references?"

"Wasting your time, sweetie, wasting your time.  You know," he leered again, "You could always waste your time with me...?"

The faint metallic scrape of a sword being adjusted in its scabbard sounded very loud in the silence of the library, and the duty Librarian swallowed, and after a respectful pause flapped his hand again at the boy behind him.

"Marco here will show you the shelf, we keep them in here.  So many timewasters come looking for the Frostbanes."  The young boy got up, and the duty Librarian slid his chair back, now avoiding looking at Lianna.

"This way," said Marco, blushing again.  He led the way to the left-hand bookcase, which had three shelves, and indicated the middle shelf.  Towards one end five books and a scruffy pamphlet had been sectioned between narrow blocks of wood, and Marco pointed at them, and then hurried away.  Lianna dropped down to one knee to see them better, and then sighed softly to herself, pulled them all off the shelves, and sat down at the nearest desk.

The End

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