Serial: An Heir to Thorns and Steel, 9

An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.

An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Blood Ladders, Book 1
M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 9


 

      “Morgan! Ivy! What, you want to be forced to sit in the front? Hurry!”
      Ivy sighed with the wet sweetness of her breath. I dragged it in even as it faded, as the smell of her receded from my nostrils and the weight of her linked arm in mine became human again, something that could be encompassed. “Caught before we could even escape,” she said. “We shall have to plan another time.”
      “I’d like that,” I said and found a shaky grin of my own. “Shall we?”
      “Let us,” she said, and let me lead her in.
      Radburn’s warning was somewhat premature, but we ended up in seats closer to the front than we usually preferred. I knew Radburn chose the seats furthest from the lectern so any inattentiveness might pass unnoticed; Ivy, I suspected, shared my need to go unseen. She for that women were few at the university, and I, of course, so that I might escape if weakness gripped me too fast. But we put aside daring thoughts of flight and set ourselves to note-taking. Eyre’s lecture touched on a topic I hadn’t spent much time investigating, that of the priest as outsider in folklore, and as usual I found myself so engrossed the time fled.
      I was not so engrossed that I did not remain aware of Ivy sharing my desk and my ink glass.
      After the lecture, Eyre strolled toward us, tapped my side of the desk with stiff fingers. “Find your reading interesting?”
      Now that he was standing in front of me, I could not for my life recall any of the words from the manuscript. I knew I’d read them but my misadventures afterwards had wiped them all from memory. I said, “So interesting I found it hard to retain.”
      He laughed. “Read it a few times through. Maybe on the fourth pass it’ll stick.”
      “I hope,” I said. And then, “Should I also be looking for priests?”
      “I don’t know,” he said, his face closing until the expression became enigma. “Should you?”
      Frowning, I watched him wander out of the hall.
      “Chocolate,” Ivy said, touching the back of my hand.
      I started. “Now?”
      “No!” she said, laughing. “This evening, after supper. We’re convening for special cause.”
      “And what cause is this?” I asked. Afternoon chocolate was our routine; evenings were best served by study and filial duty.
      “We’re going to choose Radburn’s dissertation,” she said with a laugh, and then her smile faded. “And try to help Chester find a new topic. We thought tonight would be good as we have rest day tomorrow. Bring some books.”
      “Right,” I said.
      “And it’s at Chester’s,” she finished.
      “I’ll be there,” I said. I would miss the opportunity to peruse my folio of elves, but Ivy was right: this was an unusual circumstance.
      She left me then; she and Guy and Radburn had separate lectures, Chester a guided study and I had a free period to do with as I pleased. My custom, as long as I felt healthy enough, was to volunteer my services to the library, re-shelving discarded books. I evaluated my state and found it peculiar: I didn’t feel sick, but I still felt frangible. And yet I wasn’t sure whether the morning’s episode would fulfill my requirement for the day . . . I sighed and pushed myself to my feet. My own skin struck me as bizarre, as a stranger’s.
      I presented myself to Professor Kendwyne in the library, who smiled absently and pointed to the latest stack of forgotten material. With a deep breath I sat at the desk to sort them. This room had been originally intended as a vigil chapel and was not particularly suited to its new use; the ceiling was so high and the windows near them so narrow that most of the lighting was provided, perforce, by lamps. To maximize the space, the bookshelves had been built in stories, with ladders leading to slim ledges. It was not a place for the faint-hearted, with the wooden ledges given to creaking and flexing beneath the foot and the ladders precarious in their grip on each shelf. The corridors between shelves were a claustrophobe’s nightmare, so close that two people standing on the opposite ledges could easily clasp arms over the distance.
      But it smelled like parchment and the pungent richness of ink, like the acid clinging to foil and the musky warmth of old leather. It smelled like age and wisdom, and the thick shadows at the base levels allowed one to hide if one so pleased; or to climb the ladders to the thin high light of the distant windows, if one desired such obvious symbolism. And the silence had a muffled embracing quality I had never found duplicated elsewhere.
      So I sorted books and began re-shelving and found some measure of peace in it. As usual, Kendwyne made an appearance halfway through my labors, a truncated smile smoothing some of the taciturnity from his face. He hated disorder. In all the time I’d been in school we’d exchanged perhaps thirty words, and all those in instruction on sorting and shelving when I’d first volunteered… but his pleasure was easy enough to see.
      The last few books belonged to the topmost shelves near the center of the library. I climbed the ladder and made my way along the precipice to the first. The edge of the book rasped against the wooden shelf just as a spasm passed through my wrist. I glanced at my hand, as dumb as an animal. God save me, but even as old as I was I still felt a mute denial before every seizure.
      There were no banisters on these ledges. As my body twisted out of my control and my feet jerked me off the boards I wondered wildly how long after this episode that would remain true.

***

Awww, romance over shared ink. |)

Anyway, we are paid up into Thursday! Any donations or reviews will apply toward Saturday’s bonus. And I’m grateful, because I used some of that money to buy another chapterbook for Daughter. Last week was the first time she was willing to listen to a book over the course of several days, rather than have it finish in one sitting! I am excited at this new step for her. :)


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