Secrets in the Library
While the other kitchen staff labored away, Anya got to enjoy a day of rest with her family. Most of the Queen’s workers had every seventh day off, including the field workers. So, she and her mother slept in, goofed off, and just plain relaxed, with Terrence returning well into the evening.
The next day, however, her family and friends went back to work, leaving her all alone. Anya spent her time doing what she could at home. By that afternoon, their one room was scrubbed, the laundry was drying, and a meal was waiting to be eaten. With nothing left to do, she lay on the bed and threw a rock into the air repeatedly, trying to reach the ceiling.
The passage of time was impossible to measure accurately, but eventually, she gave up attempting to occupy her time with a rock and a ceiling. Taika was coming for a sleepover that night, so Anya had planned on going to the library anyway. Hopefully she wouldn’t get there too early. She moved the cauldron off the fire and left.
The door at the top of the tower steps was open. Anya stuck her head around the corner and knocked.
“Huh? What?” The old Librarian woke with a start.
“Time to go home, Otis.” Anya smiled at Taika’s caretaker and teacher.
Otis’s lackluster robe was a faded dark blue filled with holes. Its frayed silver trim clung in what few places it could. Anya tried to picture what it looked like new while he went back to dozing in his armchair. It must have been glimmering and marvelous.
“Come on in, Anya.” The library looked in even more disarray than before Taika began working there. She was currently behind a large desk with a smothering collection of opened books and scrolls littering it. She tried to organize some of them as she spoke. “I know. I know. It looks awful. But when I first started here, Otis would grunt and groan when all I did was open up the curtains. I still haven’t finished dusting off the shelves. But most of that’s my fault because I keep stopping to read my finds. You won’t believe what’s here, Anya!”
She excitedly led Anya about the library, pointing out interesting features. “There are books here like The Rise and Fall of the Native Cupolians, A Modern Study on Aquatic Wildlife, and scrolls titled ‘Modern Poets’ (dated 120 years earlier), and ‘A Brief Essay on the True Meaning of Jewels and Flowers’. I can’t wait to start that one, because I’m hoping it will explain this section.” She opened her palms to the case of shelves filled with the jewel encrusted scrolls and books.
Anya had become used to Taika’s passionate frenzy at work. Whenever she would come by to visit, Taika would talk out loud to no one in particular as she completely rearranged the library to her liking. During this process, which was apparently still going on, she would “tut” and “pft” periodically in disbelief muttering, “Who in Cupola would put ‘Sword Maintenance’ with ‘Cake Decorating for Royals at Home’?” And then all of a sudden she would gasp and exclaim, “What is this?”, and the rest of the day would be lost to reading.
Anya habitually followed Taika to the front desk and listened to her tell about her most recent piles of discoveries. “Some of these are diaries of certain people, history records, censuses, and a cookbook for camping knights.” The last one she mentioned had a picture of an armor clad knight holding what looked like a giant feathered serpent’s head on a stick over a fire. “I’ve had to make whole sections for records, cookbooks, and scientific research.”
Anya picked up the cookbook and immediately got nauseous from the picture on the cover. “What are they cooking?” she asked.
Taika looked at it and recoiled from the picture. “Ah … I don’t know. Oh! It must be time to go! Here, let me finish up.” She walked over to Otis and shook his shoulder. “Otis! Otis!”
“Time to go home, Otis!”
Otis reluctantly got up and left for the stairs. She called after him, “See you next week, Otis!” After he left earshot, she said, “He likes to sleep during the days because he ‘saves all his nighttime hours for the missus.’” She raised her eyebrows on that last part.
“Ooookaaaay. Are you ready for the sleepover?”
“In a minute. I have to file these first.” Taika began putting away three teetering piles of books. Anya would have helped, but she didn’t want to get yelled at like last time, so she went to watch the rest of the courtyard from out of the window.
She raised her hand up to absentmindedly stroke her fingers across the stone wall next to her. “Taika?”
“I have a problem at work, and I need your help on it.”
“I’m listening,” she said distractedly.
Anya blew air through her cheeks and turned, walking down the wall while stroking it with her hand and looking over her shoulder at all the books on the shelf. “Well, there’s this bully, Canis.” She turned her attention to the stones. “She keeps trying to get people fired. I just want to make it stop, but Gev wants me to do something to her.”
“Oh. I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Revenge never goes as planned. And besides, it won’t make you feel any better. All revenge really consists of is the desire to change the past, which you can’t do. No one can. Now if all you want to do is stop her, just go to Cook.”
While Taika had been talking, Anya had found a mortar joint slightly different than the surrounding ones. “I can’t go to Cook. They’re best friends.”
The sounds of books being shelved were barely softer than Taika’s voice. “Oh. Well then you do have a problem. The only solution I can think of is to wait it out and pray it all goes well. Try to avoid her, and don’t do anything that would make her mad.”
Taika kept talking, but Anya was too busy playing with the wall to listen. The more she picked at it, the more interesting it became. Soon she realized one stone sticking out ever so slightly more than the surrounding ones. She grabbed a hold of its edges and pulled. Nothing. She pulled harder. Her fingers slipped and got scraped. “Ow.” She kept on, a little at a time. Yup, there was no mistaking it. This was a secret.
“—right, Anya? Anya? Anya, are you listening to me?”
“No. Come here. I think I found something.”
Taika ran over. “What are you doing?”
Anya continued to grunt and pull at the stone. “This stone was sticking out.”
Taika panicked. “Then stick it back in! Are you trying to tear up my library before I even get paid?!”
“We can put it back in later. I just want to see what’s behind it.”
Taika slammed her hand onto the stone and tried to push it back. “What’s behind it is the outside. Now put it back.”
But Taika hadn’t worked in the fields all of her life, and she couldn’t budge the stone the way Anya could. Finally, Anya put one set of fingers on one side, and one on the other. She wiggled the stone back and forth until it fell out. Anya jumped back quickly and flung her arm in front of Taika to keep her safe. “Look out!” The stone fell with a loud thud, breaking off one of the corners.
“Anya! Look what you did!” Taika bent down to try and repair the stone. “Oh they’re going to kill me for this!”
“I’m going to be let go and never allowed in the library again!”
“You might want to look at this.” Anya’s arms held an ancient book, the kind of book that screams, “Look at me! I hold a secret!”
Taika rose up. She gingerly opened it, stroking its fragile pages with her fingertips. “This is extraordinary! The old Librarians left a diary.”
“That’s not all they left.” Anya reached in to pull out another book and read the title. “Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures.”
Taika didn’t hear her. She had already walked away and started reading aloud:
Azizi has betrayed us. Queen Doshishi is threatened. None of our spells will work against him. We believe he has gone to the caves. For now, we have convinced the Queen that she is safe, and believe it to be so.
Taika looked up from her book. “Queen Doshishi. Isn’t she the first monarch mentioned in our history books?”
“I don’t know. I never paid much attention.”
“I wonder how far back this journal goes?” She started turning back through the journal.
“I found this too.” Anya opened her smaller book and showed Taika pictures of the most peculiar beasts she could have ever imagined. “It’s a listing of magical creatures. Look! A flabberfly!”
Forgetting Cupola’s history for now, Taika studied a picture of a small, flying insect with six wings, four legs, and two mouths. Anya read aloud, “It says here, ‘A flabberfly is a six-winged insect of extreme annoyance to humans. It spends its time buzzing near people’s ears and whispering nonsensical words and absurd untruths. It is controlled easily enough by a common flyswatter.’ Hmm. I always wondered what one was.”
“I don’t understand,” said Taika. “Magic isn’t supposed to be real. What is all of this?” She flipped through to the end of the diary while Anya sat down to study the incredible pictures of monsters. “Ah! Here it is! It says:
Thus, after Daniel’s vision, Queen Doshishi has since banished all things magical and ordered a Field of Protection.
We have therefore had to stop practicing all magical activity and following this entry, will keep our manuscripts hidden. Her guards have already destroyed much of our written spells and other works. This is all we have left.
It is for this reason that we, the remaining Royal Wizards, do hereby vanquish all magical creatures from the city of Cupola, and apply the magical dampening Field about the queendom so that no magic may enter this queendom and threaten our future and present monarch.
If this Field of Protection works, then these will be the last words written by a Royal Wizard of Cupola.
Taika had trouble speaking. “It’s the last entry in the book.”
A chill ran up Anya’s spine. She quickly shoved the encyclopedia back into the hole and grabbed the diary from Taika to do the same with it. Groaning, she lifted the stone cover and set it from whence it came. She picked up the broken corner and put it in its place too. It fit perfectly. Breathing heavily from the effort, she then turned and fell back against the wall.
“Anya? You know what this means, don’t you?”
Anya’s wide eyes stared at the floor as she nodded.
Taika’s face broke into a huge grin, and her eyes twinkled with joy. “Magic is real!”
Anya didn’t realize it when Taika locked up the library and continued to animatedly talk about her work. She didn’t notice it as they went down the steps and walked across the courtyard amidst the throng of innocent Cupolians trying to get home. Her mind was too busy convincing itself that it was, indeed, functioning properly. Taika saw it too, right? And she thinks it’s real. But Anya was never really positive Taika’s pod wasn’t a few peas short to begin with. However, it did make sense. Flabberflies, elves, dragons, slayers. The journal’s story actually made sense.
OK, so she believes in magic now. That doesn’t mean she has to go around telling people. As long as she keeps her mouth shut, just like Gevin said, everything should be fine. Yup, fine. Everything would be fine.
About the time Anya had finally convinced herself her screw wasn’t loose, and that maybe, just maybe, magic was in fact, indeed, real after all, she heard someone call out, “A Wizard … I see a Wizard!” It was that old man again. He walked forward, limping on his cane, and bowed respectfully towards Taika.
All of Anya’s self-doubts came crashing back. She watched Taika approach him and ask, “Me? Do you mean me, Sir?”
He reached out his free hand and touched her robes. “You wear the robes of an Apprentice. You have magic.”
Taika smiled. “Oh no, Sir. We don’t have magicians anymore. I’m a Librarian’s Apprentice.”
Anya grabbed Taika’s sleeve in a panic and whispered through her teeth, “Taika! What are you doing!?”
He peered into Anya. “Your eyes. Your eyes hold magic. There’s magic in your eyes.” Anya stared back at him with great fear. There was no way this man was mentally stable.
Taika continued on in her usual unpredictable fashion. “Sir? How old are you?”
He acted surprised by her question.
“If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I have been a man for 60 years. But I was born over 200 years ago.”
Anya’s eyebrows almost climbed clear off her face.
“I was held by the lonely witch in the woods for so long, my family died without me. I was a dog, then.”
And there it was, proof of bonkerdom. Taika went rigid and stared at the man. Anya split her gaze between the both of them, more confused than ever. Finally she said, “Um, Taika? Don’t we need to get going?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Yeah. We need to go now.” Taika continued to pore over the man, while he stared back at them in the most peculiar fashion. Anya thought she saw something in the man’s eyes she hadn’t seen before. Was it relief?
Taika remained pensive and slow as they turned down the next street. Anya turned to ask her, “Taika? What’s going on? He was looking at us in a scary way, and you’re acting really weird right now.”
She woke from her thoughts. “He just got me to thinking is all.” She smiled.
“What if there are still wizards out there?”
“It’s one thing to believe in,”—She hid her face and whispered the next word—“magic. But to think that anyone still practices it somewhere is another story entirely. I’m not sure I want to believe it’s real if that’s what I’m going to turn into.”
“Do you believe in birds, Anya?”
“Do you believe in birds?”
“Do you think he believes in birds?”
“Of course he believes in birds. Why would—”
“Do you think yourself crazy for believing in birds, simply because he does?”
“What? No. I—”
“Then why do you think sharing the belief of magic makes you insane?” Taika started walking again.
Anya didn’t know what to say to this, but she was worried. Thankfully by now, they had reached Taika’s house anyway, so she was spared having to come up with a reply. Taika said, “Let me change and tell my family goodnight.”
Anya answered, “OK.”
A tall man with hair like Taika’s, only longer, opened the door for them. Anya waved. “Hello, Mr. Wolf.”
Taika’s father let her in. “Hello, Anya.”
She walked into the spacious room filled with a table and chairs ready for service. The cooking fire had slabs of fish on some stones. Fur stretched on frames hung on the walls. Ms. Wolf looked up and smiled at them. Taika kissed her mom and went to the back room to change. Mr. Wolf asked, “How are the kitchen duties, Anya?”
“They’re getting easier. I do my best and try not to complain. I get free meals, and there’s even a pile of straw I can sleep on if I’m there too late at night. I also get to work year round, so my family will have more money this winter. It’s hard to be happy about that right now though because I haven’t been paid yet.”
He smiled proudly. “It sounds like you work hard. But you always have, haven’t you?”
Ms. Wolf asked her, “Would you like something to eat, dear?” Her round face had a gentle appearance. A bone clasp decorated her black hair. Anya assumed it had been carved by her husband. Ms. Wolf flipped the meat with skill and went to pour Anya some water.
“Oh, thank you.” Anya took the mug and sipped the water politely.
“I’m ready!” Taika came out wearing her usual pants and boots. She carried a small bag. “I’m going to Anya’s for the night, is that OK?”
“Of course, dear. Do you need something before you go?” Ms. Wolf picked up the stone with the biggest piece of fish and handed it to Taika.
“Goodness! Thanks, Mom. I’m sure this will be enough to feed the whole neighborhood!”
“Thanks, Ms. Wolf.” Anya was used to them giving her family food, but she appreciated it every time. They carefully wrapped the hot stone and fish in some cloth to make it easier to carry.
Ms. Wolf called out when they left, “Tell your mother ‘Hello’ from us, will you?”
“Of course, Ms. Wolf.”
Anya carried the fish, and Taika shouldered her bag as they headed for the north side of Cupola. Anya glanced over at her old house, now filled with some family she’d never met, and never wanted to. They were probably nice people merely eating supper like everyone else, but to Anya, they were intruders. This journey always made her feel awkward and uncomfortable.
She kept her head low and tried not to draw any attention while walking through the nice houses of her old neighborhood. Families from this neck of the woods didn’t normally commune with families from Anya’s area. And even though she knew Taika wasn’t like them, it still made Anya feel like less of a person whenever she left the nicer neighborhood and entered hers and Gevin’s. She didn’t think Taika ever noticed the difference.
Anya relaxed when they got to the main thoroughfare.
Taika asked, “Have you visited Gevin yet?”
Anya shrugged. “I go during lunch occasionally, but we don’t have a lot of time. Have you gotten paid yet?”
“No. I’m once a month, like you.”
Anya was too afraid to talk about what happened, and Taika was probably preoccupied with her quietly turning gears anyway. So, they walked the rest of the way in silence. Anya opened the door for her when they reached her house. “Hey Mom!”
“Hi, Sweetheart. Hi, Taika.” She gave both of them a hug and kiss.
“Hi, Ms. Walberg.”
“Terrence is spending the night in the woods with some friends of his. They’re going to practice with their weapons and try to hunt for something.”
“Maybe they’ll find a raven’s nest and bring home some string.” Anya guffawed.
“Anya, your brother is trying very hard. It’s not his fault his life was more difficult than some. I would hope you would be happy for his triumphs and want him to succeed.”
“I would, Mom. But you don’t really believe he’s going to be a slayer now, do you?”
“No.” She sighed. “No, I don’t.”
Taika said, “Actually, Anya. If what we found is to be believed—”
“Hey Mom! Look at this fish Taika’s mom sent over!” Anya rushed over and laid the fish on the table. She opened it up with a dramatic flare, hoping to draw her mother’s attention away from Taika’s outburst.
Her mother smelled in its heavy aroma. “Oh, Taika! Tell your mother thank you so very much for this, would you?”
“Sure, Ms. Walberg.”
After supper, the girls spent the night playing cards with Ms. Walberg and catching up on all the garden gossip. “Jake and Diane have been getting closer. They plan to get married this winter.”
“Are they going to try to get more work or a different job?” Anya rolled her dice.
“It is difficult to live off of garden salary, and if they ever had any children… They haven’t talked about it, and I wasn’t comfortable asking. Snipe.” Her mother placed her card on top of Anya’s.
The girls nodded.
She continued while they played the next round, “It’s almost warm enough to start the summer crops. We should be planting the three sisters’ field soon. And not long after that, I might be able to bring us home some lettuces.” She raised her shoulders and scrunched up her nose with delight. “Won’t that be nice?”
“Yeah.” Anya raised her brows and nodded, keeping her eyes on the playing field. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had fresh greens. We’ve been eating meat, grains, and preserves for so long now I forgot what crisp, fresh from the garden food tastes like.”
Taika rolled her dice. “Um, Ms. Walberg?”
Anya froze, she could tell what was coming. No, Taika. Please no.
Taika played her card. “Do you believe magic was ever real?”
Anya dropped her forehead into her hand, exposing her cards in the other while her mother said with a blushing smile, “Well, as a young girl I was afraid of it. All of the stories the other kids told me were pretty scary.” She returned to normal adult mode. “But no, I don’t believe it’s real now. Has anyone ever actually seen a fairy, or … something appear out of thin air? Anyone? No. So of course it’s not real. If it were, someone would have seen at least something ‘magical’.”
Taika said, “But what if there was a—”
“Oh!” Anya “dropped” her cards, scattering them with those on the playing field. “Oh narfel lumps! I am so sorry.” She quickly started to pick them up, shuffling all the cards together into one pile. Raising her hand to her mouth, she stifled a very loud yawn. “Oh, I must be sleepy. Are you ready for bed yet?”
Her mother said, “Sure, Anya. It is getting late. You two can sleep in our bed, and I’ll use Terrence’s.”
They cleaned up the game and got ready for bed. After they got under the covers, Taika called out, “Night, Ms. Walberg. Thanks for dinner.”
“You’re welcome. Good night, girls.”
Anya said, “Love you.”
“Love you, too, dear.”