Weaving through the castle corridors, Anaria hoped she hadn’t misremembered the cook’s directions but, after what seemed like forever, she came a large set of doors, carved with books and scrolls.
She caught her breath, pushed down the fizz of exuberance and carefully pulled on one of the doors.
It swung open easily and she stepped into a dimly-lit room. It was huge, she’d never dreamed of such a place, and every last wall, plus several waist-height sets of shelves scattered across the floor, were filled to the brim with books.
She slowly circled the room, her heart bouncing between bliss, awe and deep sorrow at the fact she’d never be in a position to get to know these riches.
She realised the futility of her quest, she would never find a small set of notebooks, or stories suitable for village children in this store. There was doubtless an order to the books but she had no idea what it would be. And yet the sorrow refused to completely take hold. The sheer wonder of this room held her captive.
There was a noise at the door and Anaria jumped. An older lady, gowned like a queen and masked for the ball was standing just inside the room, watching her.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I haven’t touched anything I promise. It’s just, well, I so miss my books and cook said it would be alright for me to come in here.” she sighed, “It’s lovely.”
The lady smiled and moved forward, “To tell the truth, I’ve been standing there a few minutes. I’ve never seen someone held spellbound by a library before. I think you have an interesting tale to tell.”
Anaria flushed, “Not really, I’m just here from the village to help in the kitchens.”
The lady looked at her consideringly, “No, there’s more than that. There’s only one from that village that ever had time for books and he’s long gone sadly. Moreover, I don’t believe you’re one of his.”
“The Old Gentleman! Oh, ever since Liam showed me the cottage and told me about his notebooks I’ve been aching to read them and see if I can make anything of the gadgets he left behind.”
“Ahhh, you’re the girl our junior forester brought back from town. How are you settling in.”
Anaria hung her head, “Not well. They’re all very patient and kind, but I’m terrible trial. I came knowing nothing useful and it’s taking such a long time to learn anything to a level that I feel at all proud of.”
“What does Old Maggie think of you then?”
Anaria smiled, “Maggie says I have focus and high standards for carding wool. I spend most afternoons with her and Sarah hopes she’ll start teaching me to spin once she has the wall hanging completed.”
“Hmmm, sounds like you’ve managed to win over the most pernickety person in the village. I think you might be your own harshest critic.”
“You seem to know the village well Your Ladyship.”
The woman smiled, “I should, I’ve lived here all my life and the villagers are our nearest neighbours.”
She plumped down on a sofa near the fireplace and waved Anaria to a chair nearby, “Now, tell me all about how you came to the village and what brought you to the library tonight.”
And Anaria found herself pouring out her story, even down to the embarrassment of discovering this evening she had insulted the Duke’s son at the town dance, to an interested and sympathetic audience.
At the end, the lady reached out and squeezed one of Anaria’s hands, “Well for what it’s worth from a stranger, I think you’re doing wonderfully well and are clearly valued by the village folk.”
“Now, let me see what I can do about your quest for books. Now I don’t know where the Old Man’s notebooks are but I do know who to talk to about the story books. You stay right here and I’ll send in someone to help you.”
She bustled out with Anaria calling an amazed and uncertain thanks behind her.
Some time passed before the door re-opened and Anaria roused herself from a near doze in her comfy spot by the fire.
The new visitor had her shooting to her feet in nervous discomfort. A young man, every bit as gloriously dressed as the lady had been, and equally masked. He smiled and waved off her stammering apology.
“Please, don’t be concerned, my mother specifically asked me to come in and help you find one or two books for the village children to enjoy.”
He stepped closer, “Although, I may have to ask you for that dance I never had in town as a payment.”
Anaria swayed and he quickly reached forward to grab her elbow, “I’m so sorry Your Lordship. I should go, I really shouldn’t be here.”
“Not until you have some colour back.”
She took a deep breath and stepped back, “Thank you, I’m fine.”
“You’re not, but until you are, would you be so kind as to at least explain to me why all the young ladies in Gandry have tongues like knives? I’ll tell you plain Miss, for all your discomfort right now, you were the least rude to me of all your friends and the only one who showed anything approaching regret for your words.”
Anaria flumped down on the chair again, “Oh dear, if you’re the Duke’s son, does that mean I just told my whole life story to the Duchess of Clearwater?”
“She said you were fascinating.”
“So, sharp tongues and insults?”
“It’s the boys, they like to dance for the opportunity to grab and pinch and it’s our only way to combat it.”
“Surely your parents object?”
“They just make excuses for them. Boys will be boys, it’s how they show they like you, they’re just awkward and clumsy, be a little nicer. To be fair, the only one who actually left bruises every time was Sebastian.”
“Bruises? It’s no wonder you hate to dance.”, he held out a hand, “And it’s my clear duty to show you that they were most definitely doing it wrong.”
Anaria looked up at him, he gestured again, she shook her head, “I don’t think Liam would like it.”
“My betrothed, he’s a forester in the village.”
“Ah, yes, I know who you mean. He’ll not mind, for he knows I’ve considerably more respect for my dance partners than your town lads.”
He grinned, “And it’s the only way you’re going to get your books.”
Anaria glared, but stood, placing her hand on his, “I’m not sure blackmail is much of an improvement.”