Just Another Day
“You were instructed to report to Captain Hernesson upon arrival! You had no business traipsing around the woods in the middle of the night, you could have severely disturbed the fragile eco systems in there with your stumbling’s and – worst of all – you could have agitated the creature, making it attack our village! I expected more professional behaviour from the Inquisition!”
It was the loudest, and by far angriest, they had ever heard Madame Ludivine when they approached the main building. And while the rest of the apprentices were still speculating who she was talking to, Emilia had recognised the trio from far away. Regine Valaente’s obnoxiously large feathered hat, Yustir Rova’s top hat, and the monstrously large frame of Jurij Rova. The trio stood in a stern line, looking much more professional than they had the night before. And armed to the teeth.
“We are professionals, Ma’am. We would not have let the creature near the village. But despite what you think, we have no reason to believe the dragon means any danger to your town or its people,” Yustir Rova assured.
“That is a tall presumption.”
“If this creature wanted to threaten your town, there is nothing you, or we, or anyone could do about it,” Regine Valaente explained, her face stern and mask-like.
“So you encountered the creature?” Ludivine inquired.
“Aye, that we did,” Yustir confirmed.
“Well?” Ludivine asked, tapping her foot on the stone steps where she stood above the trio. Emilia saw the corner of the hunter’s lip twitch upwards ever so slightly, before he shook his head.
“Well nothing. We ran into the creature in the woods, it did some growling and threatening, then it flew away. We have no reason to believe it intends to attack the village.”
“However,” Regine Valaente added “the Captain of your militia informed us that a second creature had been sighted. We will not return to Par’fost until we have sufficient evidence to assume that creature is either gone or dead.”
“Very well,” Ludivine agreed, stilling her tapping foot.
“Is it true the creature crashed through the roof of this building?” Yustir Rova asked, pointing at the main building. Ludivine seemed taken aback for a second, looking back at her library and then to her apprentices that were slowly gathering within earshot.
“Then we will have to search the premises for any indication of the nature of the beast.”
“The premises have been thoroughly searched by militia and librarians. No relevant evidence has been found,” Ludivine assured.
“We will decide what is relevant and what isn’t,” Regine Valaente declared, and with a flap of her coat tails, she climbed past Ludivine up the steps towards the doors.
“This is property of the librarian guild, you can’t just rummage around, the books are very-”
Ludivine was cut off when Valaente turned toward her with a glare that made the blood curdle in the veins of anyone who happened to be in the line of it. She stepped so close to the head librarian, the tips of their boot practically brushed and like this, it was striking just how much taller Valaente was thanks to the impressively high heels of her boots. She actually looked down on the head librarian.
“You overestimate the position of your guild, head librarian. We are the Inquisition. So unless you want us to come back here with a writ of the Supreme Judge and the Inquisitor to take this library apart brick by brick, you will show yourself cooperative.”
The apprentices gasped and their gazes shot to their head librarian, who had never been talked to like that before. Ludivine’s mouth stood slightly agape with shock, a hand cluthing her chest with a gasp over that blatantly obvious threat, before she gritted her teeth together.
Jurij and Yustir Rova followed Valaente up the steps, and before entering, Yustir turned back towards Ludivine with a smirk.
“Besides, it’s not like you have anything to hide, do you?”
Without waiting for her response, Yustir Rova made to turn back to his comrades. As he did, Emilia caught him winking at her just before he had fully turned and followed his brother and Regine Valaente inside. Ludivine stayed behind, clearly furious – and also powerless. Then, without even once turning to her apprentices, she entered the building, surely to oversee the hunter’s search.
“Wow,” Andrew hissed.
“I have never seen anyone talk to Ludivine like that…” Fran admitted.
“The Inquisition doesn’t mess around,” Andrew confirmed. Emilia looked over at him.
“What do you know about them?”
“Only what everyone knows. The executive force of the Supreme Court. Magic police of Par’fost and everything under its jurisdiction. One of the most powerful – and most dangerous – organisations in all of Arcaria. So yeah, I guess… if they wanted, they could take the library apart brick by brick, like she said,” Andrew explained.
“I don’t know how I feel about them having free reign in the library…” Fran mumbled.
“Ludivine was expecting their arrival, she has made precautions. I am sure everything will be fine,” Emilia assured them, then nodded to the door. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for Oheier’s lecture.”
The three of them went with the rest of the apprentices, making their way to the auditorium. They took their usual seats, and while they waited for the librarian to arrive, mumbled conversations filled the auditorium. They took out their notebooks, their pens, and they waited.
And waited some more. Until the mumblings grew louder, gazes were exchanged across the room, questioning looks. Oheier was never late.
“Someone should check on him,” an apprentice suggested. More gazes were exchanged, yet no one spoke up.
“We could draw sticks?” another suggested. Emilia sighed.
“I’ll go. I already got the biggest detention in history, not like he can get any more mad at me for hassling him.”
The group chuckled as she got up and when she headed for the door, she heard them all turn in their seats. When she looked back, she saw them salute.
“Your sacrifice will not be forgotten, Emilia Baines!” one yelled, the one who had previously teased the militia when they had been positioned on the library grounds. She laughed, rolled her eyes but saluted back, then she left the auditorium, making her way back through the main building towards the offices. She could hear only the rustling of her skirts as she walked, and once she came closer to Oheier’s office she could hear murmured voices, laughter even, which made her stop in her tracks. Oheier never laughed (unless he was very proud of a particularly evil and unsolvable task he set his apprentices).
Emilia came closer and caught a peek into his office, with the door slightly ajar. Oheier was standing up and offering herbs for a guest in his office. A young person – just from the back Emilia could not tell if man or woman. They wore a fancy hat, a long cloak draped asymmetrically over their shoulder – black and gold embroidered brocade it seemed, with black fur applications on the collar, and heavy, muddy boots with a slight heel.
The two were laughing about something, and Oheier actually seemed… pleasant for a change. Was this an old friend? Emilia watched him stuff his own pipe, then he patted the visitor on the arm as they laughed and he went searching for matches to light the pipes. At that point, Emilia decided she had to interrupt. Clearly their teacher had completely forgotten about the morning lecture.
She knocked lightly.
“Yes? Who’s that? Baines?” he barked and came a stomping towards the door, pulled it open. Emilia saw his guest half turned towards her. Revealing a quite remarkable profile with a sharp nose, pronounced chin and curved lips, the face framed by unruly black hair and their brown skin with an unusual, golden shimmer to it. She could still not tell if they were man or woman, but they could not be much older than her – maybe 19 or just twenty. She blinked away from the stranger and looked up at the librarian.
“Sir. The, uhm… the morning lecture.”
“What time is it?” Oheier snapped and went fishing for his fob watch in the pocket of his cloak.
“Half ten, Sir,” Emilia informed him.
“Goddess! Why didn’t… oh never mind.”
He turned to his guest and went back to his desk, putting down his pipe. “I am afraid I have to postpone this, son. As much as I enjoy discussing history with someone who actually appreciates the subject. Shall we, say, reconvene in two hours?”
“Gladly, Archie. I’ll hold on to these, if you don’t mind?” the stranger asked, lifting the small pouch with herbs up. Oheier laughed a thundering laugh that made Emilia just all the more baffled. Son? As in… his actual son? His adopted son? Or just son as an old mentor would address his mentee? Her brows were furrowed as she watched the stranger, trying to discern if there was a family resemblance. Goddess, if Oheier was this young man’s father, the old librarian had been outright gorgeous in his younger years. No, he couldn’t be. Impossible.
“No, no, please do! Save me some. Have a wander, if you will. Maybe you’ll find something of interest,” Oheier noted as he slipped into his robes. And the stranger’s gaze shot straight at Emilia, nailing her to the spot. She knew these eyes. She knew that face. It was the face she had seen almost entirely concealed by a hood in her dream. That was the figure she had seen in the wasteland.
His lips curved up into a smirk.
“I think I already have.”
Oheier blinked confused, glancing back and forth between his guest and the apprentice standing frozen in the door.
“Ah,” he then noted, almost exhausted. He pointed at the young man. “Introductions are in order, I suspect. Miss Baines, this is Shane D’Aliha, of the D’Aliha merchant company. Shane, this is one of our apprentices in her final year, Miss Baines.”
“Emilia,” she added. The strangers smirk turned into an honest smile and he bowed his head a little in greeting, tipping his hat.
“A pleasure, Emilia,” he said. The way he said her name. The same voice, the voice she had heard in that dream. Who by the Goddess was Shane D’Aliha, and why would she dream of him before ever having met him? Oheier raised a warning finger at the young man.
“I am literally just saying hello,” D’Aliha protested, playfully wounded.
“I know what you’re doing. I’m telling you, don’t,” Oheier repeated. He then turned back to the door, shooing Emilia out of his office. “Let’s go, Miss Baines. Much work to be done. Much work.”
Emilia stumbled backwards, gaze still glued to the stranger, who was now turning towards the door, casually leaning against the librarian’s desk. Under his cloak, he was wearing a simple black shirt, and foreign looking skirting over leather trousers. She had heard of similar clothes in Palaaren, but it was unusual in these parts of the world. His form was fine, elegant even, and now that he had fully turned to her she could officially say that she was not sure if ‘he’ was the right pronoun. The features could be both – a rather sharp face of a woman or a rather soft face of a young man – the eyes framed with kohl and a line of red painted down the middle of lips and chin, almost a little bit like war paint. The silhouette, too, was slender, with a near perfect ration of shoulder to waist. For the moment, she decided that Shane was neither. Given the opportunity, she would see how they referred to themselves. What they certainly were, irrespective of gender, was dangerously charming, and there were between Shane D’Aliha and Yustir Rova now way too many dangerously charming visitors from the capitol for one little town.
When the office door slid halfway shut and came between them, she pulled her gaze away and followed Oheier. She struggled to keep up with his large steps.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Not your… real son?”
Oheier laughed so hard he had to stop and hold his belly, then he shook his head.
“No, oh no. But I knew his father well, may the Beyond treat him kindly. Fantastic lad, Shane. Obnoxiously smart. You’d get a long and honestly that scares me a little. I think he’s staying at your family’s while he is here,” the librarian said, shaking his head with a suffering sigh.
“And why is that exactly?”
Oheier thought a moment, then shrugged.
“I don’t rightly know. He said he is researching something and the library in Par’fost does not have what he needs. He will be here for a while, ask him yourself. He seems to have taken quit the fancy to you, I am sure he’ll gladly answer all your questions.”
They crossed the entrance hall and headed to the auditorium, where the rest of the apprentices were. And while the morning lecture went its course, Emilia sat and was lost in thoughts. Thoughts that, admittedly, mostly circled around Shane D’Aliha. Around how she could possibly have known them, like they had met before. They had not though? Or was it a distant memory of a brief encounter she had forgotten, and her dreams had just moulded it into something it was not?
Whatever it had been, she would have to get to the bottom of it.
The morning lecture ended, and the three of them sat together in the closed shelves, working on their own little projects. Emilia had the book she had brought with her from the closed archives before her, carefully separating pages and inspecting the writing and ink. She heard Andrew shuffle and sit down with a pile of books opposite her, and when she heard him yawn she peeked up over the frame of her magnifying glasses.
“Short night?” she asked.
“Long lecture. You were there, right?” he asked, almost snappy.
“I admit I did not pay attention. At all,” Emilia admitted.
“What have you got there?” Fran asked, nodding at the old book.
“Found it in the archives. It’s incredibly old. Look at that writing, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”
“May I?” Fran asked. Emilia nodded and gently nudged the book in her direction across the table. Fran inspected the pages for a moment, with gloved fingertips she followed the lines of writing and she frowned. “I… have seen this before. Wait a second.”
Fran got up from their table and disappeared in an aisle. Once out of sight, Emilia turned back to Andrew, who was drumming his fingers on the table.
“Huh? Yeah… remember I said there was bit of a… situation with my parents?”
“I remember you saying you didn’t want to talk about it,” Emilia confirmed. Andrew nodded, then sighed and ran his fingers through his well-groomed hair.
“So… the other day, my father and I had a long talk. He told me he had been offered a position in the merchants’ council in Par’fost, one of the advisory bodies of the Supreme Judge.”
“Andrew, that’s huge! That’s a powerful position!” Emilia gasped. Andrew nodded, but his face looked like a crumpled up piece of paper.
“I know. But a position like that involves actually living in Par’fost, you know? And also… it involves someone taking over the family enterprise. He will be too busy to run the business himself. So… I will be gradually taking over his tasks from him. First a bit of low level administrative work, in the cargo halls in the capitol. Working my way up to take over. He wants me to get to know the company like I had built it up myself.”
“Andrew, that is amazing,” Emilia declared. But watching him, she frowned. “Yet you don’t look like you are particularly excited about it.”
“I’d move to Par’fost with him, Em. I’d be leaving when he takes up his duties in the council next summer. But… I don’t know. My life is here. My friends are here. I don’t know how I am supposed to handle myself without… well, without you. Or Fran and Lotte. But… yeah, mostly you.”
Emilia smiled and leaned over to take his hands.
“Listen to me. If I had the opportunity to get out of this nest, I would jump. I would not consider anyone else, you know that. What your father is offering you is incredible. It’s your family legacy! Your future! What future waits here, in Par’bain? Really? You know how it’s going to be for us here, right? Fran and I will work for the library until we’re old and grey. Maybe one of us will replace Ludivine in time, but that is about the best either of us can hope for. My sister will take over the inn when our parents are too old to run it. She’ll marry some miner, or a fisher, or a man from the militia, and have a bunch of kids to help her out at the inn. Lotte will marry Henrik and they will have a nice house, with at least three kids. She will be a seamstress in her spare time, and a mother and wife the rest of the day, and he will be Captain of the militia like his dad. That’s our fate. Our paths have been decided. But you… you’ve got a chance to get out of here. Take it!”
He listened to her quietly and with a frown, yet slowly – very slowly… - he nodded.
“I… guess… But I don’t know, part of me just thought we’d all be… together. Like we’d always be part of each other’s life.”
“We will be. Just because you will be in Par’fost will not mean you are any less than my best friend.”
“That’s not… not quite what I…” he mumbled, then looked up as Fran returned to the table in quick strides, carrying a thick tome. Andrew leaned away from Emilia and cleared his throat. “Forget it. We’ll talk later.”
Emilia hesitated, but then nodded a little. Fran swung her legs over the bench and sat down next to her, setting down the heavy book. A part of the Encyclopaedia Arcaria she began flipping through now, until she found a section of archaeological excavations. In Uddamark, in the mountains. Emilia leaned closer when Fran pointed at a grainy photograph of an excavation site, a ruin, and below it, a collection of wall tapestries.
“The Tapestries of Hoi’jord,” she declared proudly. Emilia went onto her knees on the bench and leaned over the photograph, squinting at the writing on the tapestries. They were an ancient artefact found in a secluded, well preserved ruin in the mountains of Uddamark – the nation just east of Par’bain. A rough place. It had been part of an adarre mega-city that had fallen in the war a thousand years ago. And it was significant because of these tapestries that had been found in remarkable conditions on the walls of what was assumed to be a throne room of some sorts. The thing was, there was barely any material of adarrill – the language spoken by the adarre – left after the war. Presumably the dragons had destroyed all material that could speak of the glory of their nation, and there was a whole section of history books about the Burning of the Great Library of Astera. There were no books that had made it out of the city. The first, best preserved sample of written adarrill that had been found since the fall of the Fifth Nation were these tapestries. Librarians were still not entirely sure if they were census records, family trees, or just pretty art, had been trying to fully decode them for ages, based on the little knowledge they had of adarril – solely based on the fact that the three primary spoken shortear languages were largely influenced by adarrill. All because there had never been enough material to work with.
Fran pulled closer the book Emilia had in front of her and pointed at the inky old pages. “Look.”
Both Emilia and Andrew leaned closer, looking back and forth between the two text samples. The letters were not quite identical, true. But a lot of them were at least strikingly similar, and differences might have been a result of the different media. Something embroidered on cloth would naturally look different from something handwritten in ink. Accounting for that… the writing was too similar to be coincidence. Emilia sat back on her heels with wide eyes.
“It’s adarrill…” she whispered.
“Em, this might easily be the first ever book in adarrill found since the fall,” Andrew declared. Her hands covered her lips and she shook her head.
“There… there’s hundreds more down there.”
“That is huge! We should go down there right now, get as many as we can carry! This could be a breakthrough for the library. Imagine if the Great Librarian learned about this, the funding that would flow in to restoring the closed archives…”
Emilia got up, and the other two met her gaze.
“Let’s… not get ahead of ourselves. If this is true, we need to be sure. We need a full size copy of the tapestries to compare,” she explained. Fran nodded.
“They keep copies in the library in Par’fost. We can request one, it should get here in a day or two.”
Emilia nodded in agreement.
“Then that’s what I am doing right now.”
She headed over to the lending desk, where a catalogue was laid out of all documents in storage here as well as the other libraries scattered across the continent. The original tapestries, she knew, lay secured in a specially designed case in the library headquarters in Par’fost. The case prevented fading of the colours, unravelling of the threads, and to keep away any dirt that might harm the precious treasure. There was one replica on display at the guild headquarters, and librarians had taken great care to produce printed copies of the writing on the tapestries. It had been a great endeavour, and no one really knew why they had done it, given how they had nothing to compare the text against. Scientific endeavour, as the best guess for anything the librarian guild did. Until now.
Emilia found the inventory number for the printed copies of the tapestries and pulled out a form, filled it with her name, librarian identification, and the material she wanted to have sent here, then went to the librarian staffing the desk today.
Master Roderick Salmai was working on a book of his own, pen scratching over paper and the sleeves of his robes rolled up to his elbows to not smudge the ink. Under the clothes, colourful tattoo sleeves were visible. Rumour among the apprentices had it Salmai had been in a gang of street rowdies in Par’fost as a young man, before being recruited by the Great Librarian himself. These tattoos were supposedly remnants of that time when he had raided carriages at night with his companions, most of whom supposedly were imprisoned now. If that was true or not, no one really knew – he never talked about his past before he had become an apprentice – but the rough image of the librarian with his tattoos, his clean shaven head and stout, muscular physique fitted well enough that no one really wanted the mystery solved.
“Sir, I’d like to make a request.”
Salmai looked up and cracked a smile.
He held out a hand, and Emilia handed him the form. The librarian inspected it thoroughly, then glanced up at her. “That’s the tapestries of Hoi’jord?” he inquired. She was not surprised he knew the catalogue by heart. Emilia nodded.
“It is. It’s for a linguistics project,” she lied.
“Hm,” Salmai replied with a nod and a frown, then pressed the stamp of their library onto the designated spot on the form before signing it and folding it up to go out with the other requests of the day. “It will be here early next week.”
“Thank you,” she replied and hurried to return to her friends. She slid her books off the table.
“Will we get one?” Andrew asked. Emilia nodded.
“The copy will be here in a few days. Until then… we’ll wait and get whatever we can out of the archives.”
“We can do that. In fact, we can be there as much as we want since we got this detention. No questions asked,” he confirmed. Emilia nodded.
“And I’ll do all the research I can up here.”
“You could come down there with us. I am sure Oheier wouldn’t mind.”
Fran laughed nervously.
“Nah, I’ll pass. I think that place is creepy.”
The three laughed, Emilia and Andrew nodding in agreement.
“But not today. Today, I have to head over to my family,” Andrew noted.
“And I promised Lotte I’d help her pick a dress. She wanted to do that the other day and I just… forgot about it. She’ll be upset enough as it is…”
“Yeah, I don’t want to get in the middle of that. She scares me a bit, to be perfectly honest,” Fran admitted. Emilia laughed, shook her head.
The three closed their books, went to sort it all back into the shelves, before they left the library together. And for the first time in quite a while, it felt like it was just another day at the library. With just them, doing what they did best. Their work. And no worry about monsters and dragons and Inquisition hunters. For just a moment, everything was alright.