"Hey, Clef, you ready? We're not letting you make any excuses this time - you're coming out with us whether you want to or not."
Clef glanced up at the door to his cottage, where Umi was hanging over the threshold - which should be keeping people out and making them knock before they barged in, one of the reasons he'd finally moved out of the castle and into the woods just beyond the grounds, reclaiming his own space, but Umi always did seem to get by him somehow.
"Are you planning on knocking me out? I'm not sure that's going to make me enjoy myself on this picnic," he said, raising an eyebrow.
She rolled her eyes at him, stepping fully into the room. The wards lit up warm gold behind her for a moment as she came inside, but didn't stop her - he sighed internally, and hoped no one else was lurking outside to see that. "It would get you some sunshine, at least," she said, not noticing anything. "Which is healthy. And if you were unconscious you'd almost be resting, wouldn't you?"
"No. Unconsciousness and resting are not equivalent." He shook his head, and turned back to the letter he was writing. "Look, just give me a moment to finish this and send it back - Livina needs an answer before we're due back."
"Five minutes, no more," she warned him. The warning was slightly undermined by the curious way she peered about the main room, and down the corridor to the kitchen and scullery and stairs. "You've been decorating since last month."
"Last month I'd just built the place," he muttered, trying to keep writing the sentence about the Castle's wards he'd started and not just write down what they were saying. "I hadn't dug out any real furniture at that point." He'd managed that since, going through old belongings that he'd had stored away and visiting some of the market stalls out in the castle town to get a couple of rugs for the stone floor, cushions for the carved wooden settees he'd had for centuries with their scrolling out-of-date legs, a new writing desk to sit in the main room and away from the bureau in his study - now tucked down the side of the house. He'd found his old bed, set it back in the main bedroom upstairs, and had the frame for the bed in the guestroom - he needed a mattress and more bedclothes but he was getting there.
"I like these."
The approval in her voice was strong enough Clef looked around before he could help himself, to find her with one hand stroking over the carved wooden dragon on the edge of the closest bookcase. There were six, he'd had new ones made to go with the collection every time he ran out of room, and for three centuries the whole lot - and all the books now set in mis-matched piles on them - had been tucked into a storage gem and untouched.
He'd built the cottage to fit them, remembering the size precisely, and took some pride in Umi's approval - though he'd not made any of the cases himself. They were all decorated with creatures of one sort or another, but dragons and griffins were fairly well represented in the carving.
Umi moved along the row, her hand trailing over the wood, and he forced himself to look away again, not responding. It didn't stop her. "What even are all these books? Histories and books on magic, I guess?"
"A few," he muttered, writing 'and the keystone is in the foundations under the main tower, it can be found in the room with the pool below the Council chamber'.
"…That means either all of them are, or hardly any are."
"The books! If they aren't all spellbooks - what are they?"
"Books," he told her, signing his name off. "You can't read them anyway, why do you care?"
"Because I can't imagine you reading anything but serious volumes of non-fiction?" Umi prodded one of the covers as he looked across.
Clef huffed a laugh, folding the paper and pressing his seal to it to hold it shut. He went to nearest window and opened it, leaning out and whistling one long low note. One of the small fluffy birds which roosted in the large tree which stood half over the house, protecting it from the worst edge of the weather, hooted back and swooped down to sit on his wrist. He held the letter up. "Would you please take this to Livina, in the Guildhall?" he asked, and smiled when he was chirped at. "Thank you." He handed over a small treat before holding out the letter to be grasped in one careful beak, and off it flew, darting between branches.
"…Did you just give a letter to an owl?" Umi asked him, voice quivering.
He turned and frowned at her. "A cousin to an owl, yes."
"That's-" she gave in, and snickered.
"I am not convinced I wish to know what you find so entertaining," he said, with a sigh, and shut the window again.
"It's just - there's a book series that's getting really popular - don't worry about it."
Clef eyed her warily, but decided to let the subject go. "To answer your earlier question," he said, picking a lightweight outer robe from the back of his chair, "when those books are all in order, three cases will be mostly non-fiction. The rest are far more entertaining than instructional - I haven't had time to read for pleasure in years, but hopefully I'll hammer out some space to do so now. There are several hundred books there that I bought just before I became Guru, and I still haven't read them."
"…They're novels?" Umi stared at him.
"Some of them." His lips twitched. If he really wanted to get out of the picnic, this would have been the moment to distract her. As it was, he was hungry. But he could afford to be amused by her confusion a moment.
"What else? Horror?"
"Only one or two, if that."
He grinned. "Most of them, yes."
Umi stared at him, then the books. "What, really? Like - wait, love stories or coming-of-age stories?"
It wasn't often he managed to stun her into silence, but that seemed to manage it. He took the opportunity to head back to the kitchen and grabbed the basket of fruit from the trees in what would hopefully soon be as much a garden as a bit of the wood he'd put a fence around - his offering for the picnic. By the time he returned, Umi had pulled one off the shelf and was staring down at it.
"That one's more of an epic - three generations in one line all finding their way. There's a fair amount of romance in it too, though," he said, helpfully, to watch her glare at the pages.
"That's it, I'm going to learn to read Cephiran staring now. I need to know if you're telling the truth or not. I'm sure Selece can work out a way around the translation spell so I actually understand Cephiran," she muttered.
"Why wouldn't I be telling the truth? Aren't I allowed to have less serious things in my life?"
"Allowed, sure, but I've not seen any other signs of it!"
"Oh, come on," he said, grabbing her by the elbow and dragging her back across the wards, out the front door. "We can start you on letters after food, if you're serious. Right now we need to catch up with the others - mind if Fyula gives us a lift? He hasn't had a chance to stretch his wings a while."
"No, no, that's fine, I just…" Umi shook her head, and then laughed, finally, pushing his front door shut. "I never expected you to move out the castle, either. Did you decide it was time to get your own life, or something?"
"Time to get it back," he admitted, the words not as hard to say anymore as they had been. The house was one step. Delegating more of his job, another. As for what else he might be contemplating… well, there was plenty of time for that.
First, a picnic, and apparently a reading lesson.