Their return to the village was greeted by knowing grins and nudges over their clothing change.
Expressions changed rapidly when Liam described the logjam burst and its aftermath.
A check was done of all the villagers; the only person not within the village bounds was John, and he came striding into the square just as the question of finding him was posed.
He turned grim at the news, “Knew I should have checked that one before your little trip but we had the treefall on the road to the castle and that bank to shore up. We’ll walk it tomorrow.”
With that, the crowd in the square melted off to bathing and dinner.
Anaria found herself in her usual evening circle of hopeful children and she smiled tiredly, “One story today and in return you can tell me about the cottage in the clearing.”
Small faces looked to each other with shrugs and grimaces. Patty spoke up, “You mean Grandpa’s old place by the stream?”
“Not much to tell. Grandpa used to live there but Ma says it’s too far away for a family so we just use it for emergencies.”
“What about all the gadgets and things inside?”
More blank looks and shrugs, “No one knows what they are or what they do. When I’m older, Ma says I can maybe try and work some out.”
“Liam says your grandpa had notebooks that described them.”
Patty sighed, “But that’s reading and reading is so boring.”
Anaria raised an eyebrow, “Reading is boring? I think that depends on what you’re reading.”
She herded the children to their usual spot, abandoning a slightly bemused Liam. He was normally still out in the forest at this time and so hadn’t encountered this new evening ritual in person.
At the cottage, she had the children wait a moment as she ran indoors and retrieved her book.
This time the looks were suspicious. They lasted all of two minutes as she launched into a gripping tale of fae magic and a plucky village girl.
When the story ended, her audience sat in rapt silence a moment longer.
Once again, it was Patty who spoke, “You got that out of reading?”
“Maybe it’s not so bad after all.”
Anaria smiled, “And maybe we can find a way to bring you interesting things to read.”
A passing adult spoke up, “We can’t afford books and the suchlike.”
“Then we’ll have to think of another way.”
The man humphed and moved on, more interested in dinner than Anaria’s strange notions.
As the group dispersed, Liam dropped to sit beside Anaria.
“What other way are you thinking of?”
“I haven’t yet. I mean, we should be able to trade something for books, or even borrow them for a while and then return and get others. That way they’re not taking up space.”
She paused, “Does the castle have a library.”
“Quite a large one I believe.”
“Could Ingrid or Samuel maybe see if they could make some sort of arrangement?”
“I don’t know Ana, they may not see the value and I’m pretty sure the castle folk won’t want to risk their precious books in a dirty little village.”
Anaria sat straight, indignant, “The village isn’t dirty!”
“They think it is, for all that a good portion of the staff have come from here.”
Anaria scowled, then wilted, “They’d see me using up paper and ink on the stories I can remember as a waste too wouldn’t they.”
Liam nodded sympathetically, “Most of the villagers never really have the need for written words and there’s always someone who comes along, or comes back, who can take up as scribe. Other skills are more important here.”
“Other skills I don’t have.”
“But you’re learning Ana.”
“Too late and not well enough.”
Liam stood, “If you’re going to work yourself into a sulk town girl, you can do it without my help.”
He stomped off to the bath house as she glared after him.
That night, the temperature dropped and the rain turned to snow. Talk of books was dropped in favour of digging out drifts and keeping warm but Anaria didn’t forget and rapidly came to the conclusion that the castle had to be the answer, to both her questions if she was honest. That library would also contain the old man’s notebooks.