The Line Departs

“You summoned me, Captain?” said the wizened old librarian from the door to her rooms in the city barracks. She looked up from the desk she had been resting her head on, eyes red and cheeks wet with tears.
“Do you know what’s going on out there?” she asked quietly.
“Mmm…seems a few of your men are a touch disgruntled,” he replied, his small but smooth voice soothing her as it had nearly every day since the company had arrived in Trinsic. He shuffled across the room smoothly, his slippers and robe making whispering sounds against the stone floor. Once or twice a month she made a habit of asking him about his upbringing, if he had ever served a noble – perhaps as a castellan or bard, and each and every time the man managed to deflect her questions into matters of more importance. After ten years she had nearly given up, until today.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am the city librarian, and your friend, Captain.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He sighed then, a long, heavy sigh, the timbre of which defied his small frame and quiet, high-pitched voice. He cocked his head to the side, as the angry voices from the adjoining meeting hall grew louder.
“I am a watcher…and a guardian of sorts,” he said finally, dry-washing his hands in a tell-tale sign of nervousness or disapproval – it was hard for her to tell which.
“So your being here isn’t chance – our meeting here, all of our talks and research into the Annals, all by some design?”
“Some design, yes.”
“They’re coming to kill me.”
“I know.”
“Is…is that by some design too?” She cursed herself as the tears started flowing again. Damn you David… she thought for the millionth time, why did you have to go?
“As much as it pains me to admit, Captain, I’m not here for you.” He shifted a bit on the stool before he continued. “I have enjoyed the company of a fellow scholar these years since you have arrived, and hold the rather unpopular opinion that you are, indeed, a remarkable woman…but I am not here for you.”
Finally the light dawned, how the man had begun his work at the city libraries a few months after the company had arrived in the city, just days before she had given birth to David’s son. His unannounced visits to the midwife’s, seemingly to welcome the new Captain of the city watch and congratulate her on her healthy child took on whole new meaning. In that moment her fear and self-loathing washed away.
“You’re here for Justin,” she said. He responded with a nod. “You’re going to take him?” Again, a nod. “Where?”
“There’s a warlord out in the Valerian Isles, he’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s a good man with a strong house and strong walls atop Stormstone Sound. He’ll be safe there, and raised well.”
“You’ll look after him?”
“All his life, and that of his children, and their children, that is my duty.”
“There is one other thing…the Tome…if it’s left with these ruffians they’re likely to burn it along with whatever else they can throw on my pyre. It shouldn’t be lost.”
The man’s eyes dropped into his lap and the hand-wringing began again. The shouts in the next room were becoming louder and more fevered.
“Please,” she begged, “it’s Arogho’s Tome…I’ve given my life keeping it from him.” She kicked open the panel at the side of the desk and removed the small, cloth-wrapped bundle that contained The Book of The Ways and pushed it into the man’s lap. “Please,” she whispered.
“I will keep it,” he said at last, taking the bundle and secreting it within the folks of his robe, “but I will only be its steward, I will offer it back to each child in David Silvan’s line until one takes it from me freely.”
She nodded. “You had better go, I want to write some last words for the Annals before they come.”
The man nodded, rose, and began to make his way to the door.
“Why is David’s line so important?” she asked as he was reaching for the knob.
The man looked turned and smiled slightly – just a tiny, sad slant of his thin lips.
“His line, dear Captain, is that of Mengst. And please…take that secret with you when they come.”
“I will,” she said nodding, feeling a bittersweet sense of pride welling up within her.
“It has been an honor and privilege being your friend, Delayne Muerdetta,” he said, opening the door and letting himself out quietly.
“The honor is all mine, Ralben,” she whispered.

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