Work Header

Mine Own Library

Work Text:

Eliza had her nose in a book. She generally had her nose in a book; after all, she was the one who'd said, “I will read all the books.”

She'd brought something home from Powell's (“covers a whole city block!” Quentin had said), where she worked in the Rare Book Room. Even though she had her own apartment a few blocks away, she often stopped by her parents' on her way there. Especially with Libby recovering from our first session of Choice-making.

Libby was, in fact, dozing comfortably upstairs. I thought Eliza was partly worried, but partly excited that her mother would join the family as a fully fae immortal. She was a good daughter.

She closed her book (leaving a finger in her place) and looked up at me. “I'm not very good company for our guest,” she said sheepishly. “Especially one who has done so much for us.” She did not say, “Thank you”.

“Oh, pish,” I said. “After what we've been through together, we're practically family!” I paused. “I am curious, though. Now that you are no longer a changeling, have you thought about what your place in Faerie could be? What you might do?” I thought she might wind up as a valued, trusted advisor for Ginny, her sister and their father's heir.

She took her finger out of the book and set it down. “I … I don't know,” she said. “I'm starting to think about it, but what could I do in Faerie with a degree in Library Science and a concentration in Archival Conservation? I'm lucky Powell's has the rare book section, and offered me full time work there when I graduated.”

Library. Hmm. I kept my eyes on hers as I fished out my phone. She looked at me quizzically.

I looked down and tapped up Li Qin's number.

“Toby!” she cried. “Are you OK? Not covered in blood, are you?” Why does everyone always say that? Oh, right, because it's so often true.

I laughed. “No, I'm fine, I just want to talk to Mags. Could you get her to call me?”

“Again? Another mystery for her to solve?”

“No, I'm actually in Portland, and hope she can put me in contact with her counterpart in these parts,” I said. “If there is one.”

“Portland is a civilized place,” she replied. “I'm sure there is a Library there.” She rang off.

A few minutes later, the phone chirped, showing the icon of the Library of Stars.

“Mags,” I said. “That was quick!”

“I could not contain my curiosity. Why are you contacting me from Portland? That's in the Kingdom of Silences, right? Tylwyth Teg territory?”

“It is, but this has nothing to do with them. I'm sitting across from a Cait Sidhe who used to be a changeling with a degree in Library Science and, uh, Book Repair.”

After a moment of silence while she disentangled my sentence she replied, “And you'd like to introduce her to the local Library right away.” She paused. “That's … not a bad idea. Many Librarians study at human colleges. I assume you want to go now?”

“No time like the present,” I said brightly. “That's very helpful,” carefully not thanking her.

“Oh, you'll owe me! You can tell me all about your 'diplomatic' trip to Silences when you get back as payment.”

I laughed as she rang off. “Are you up for a little expedition tonight? It shouldn't be at all dangerous,” I said to Eliza.

“Um, yes?” she replied. “Are we going clubbing?”

“Just in the extremely exclusive, invitation-only sense of 'club'. What do you know about the Libraries of Faerie?”

“I thought they disappeared a long time ago, like Alexandria. Are you telling me they still exist? And you can get me into one?” She jumped up, almost sprinting for Jolgeir's study. “I'll just tell Dad we're going out. Where are we going?”

“I'll know as soon as Mags texts me the directions. I don't know how long it will take for her to get through to the Librarian in Portland.”

Joe seemed pleased, if distracted; he went back up to Libby's bedside where he had been dozing most of the day.

Recalling Li Qin's advice from before my first trip to the Library of Stars, I suggested we both change into something less informal than t-shirt and jeans. Twenty minutes later, I had on a pair of black slacks with a plain gray shirt and my leather jacket; she wore a calf-length black skirt, white blouse, black sweater, and sensible shoes. With her hair pulled back, she definitely looked the part of librarian.

“Well, yes, that's what I aimed for,” she said when I complimented her aesthetic.

We had not waited another five minutes before my phone pinged. Mags' text just said, “Tap here”. I tapped.

A navigation map sprang up, with the blue dot and red pin. We bent over the phone and zoomed in to the destination pin.

“That's … just a few blocks from work! From Powell's!” She turned to me apologetically. “I can get there on the Shadow Roads, but I don't think I can take you, too. Not until I have more practice. At least it won't take long on the bus.”

It didn't take long—within half an hour, we were striding through downtown Portland, me navigating with my eyes on the phone, Eliza guiding us through the streets. As I expected, the target changed position a few times.

“That's odd, “said Eliza after we turned several corners, “it's like we're circling Powell's.”

The blue dot and red pin coincided in front of a utility door that looked like nothing so much as the entry to the trash corridor. A new text pinged in, saying, “You Are Here.”

I tried the handle. It was locked. I stepped back and surveyed the door. A plain, unlit button was barely visible against the door jamb. I pressed it.

Immediately the door buzzed; I turned the handle and pushed it open. I was right—a long, narrow, dingy passage, open to the sky, stretched before us. Eliza pulled the door to as we entered.

We passed alcoves with garbage bins on either side, but the faint light at the end beckoned us. A single dim lamp illuminated the steel door and grimy, steel-framed windows. I opened the door and stepped through with a strong sense of déjà vu (on my part, at least); the room was the twin of the entry at the Library of Stars, right down to the illegible book titles.

“To find where your true image pictur'd lies,
Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,
I intoned, bringing up my grass and copper magic. The grubby room was hardly less so, but it was faintly brighter and clearer. A narrow door stood ajar between a cobwebby glass display case and a tilting bookshelf.

“Here we go,” I said to Eliza. “Are you still game?”

She nodded, stiffening her chin, and followed me.

Like the Library of Stars, the bookshelves soared into the dark overhead and the aisles extended away on all sides as far as I could see. Before us shone a pool of light at a sort of wide spot between the stacks. We walked toward it. Beside me, Eliza turned her head, round-eyed, in every direction.

A large, tall, wooden table stood in the wide spot's center, surrounded by wooden bar stools. There were a few comfortable chairs with adjacent reading lamps off to one side.

The tall thin man stooped over a book open on the table straightened as we approached. As he came around the table I saw what the table's bulk had hidden—the body of a horse. He was a Centaur.

He moved toward us, his hooves clipping lightly on the floor. “Welcome to the Library of Roses,” he said, bowing slightly.

“I am Sir October Daye, of the Kingdom in the Mists, sworn to Duke Torquill of Shadowed Hills. This is Eliza Bridges, daughter of Jolgeir, king of the Court of Whispering Cats. We both curtsied briefly.

“Welcome to you, Sir Daye, and to you, Princess Eliza,” he said. “Matthew Wichura, at your service. What brings you here today?”

Eliza had been silent, eyes wide as she gazed at him just short of staring. Now she laughed. “I am no Princess; you want my sister Ginny for that. But you … look familiar.”

Matthew chuckled, and pulled his human illusion around himself like a cloak. “More like this?” he asked. He took a human form of a tall thin man in his sixties.

“Matt!” exclaimed Eliza. “I always knew you were of Faerie, but it never seemed right to say anything.” She said to me, “He comes into the Rare Book Room at Powell's all the time. Sometimes he buys; sometimes he sells.” Turning back to him, she said, “It's good to meet you in your true form.”

“And you, you are changeling no more, but fully Cait Sidhe,” Matt said. He turned to me. “So the tale is true. I'd heard of Sir Daye, the changeling who gives the Choice to others yet does not make the Choice herself. And you are the living Hope Chest, the Dóchas Sidhe, the Fae of Hope. Well met.”

“The pleasure is mine,” I replied automatically, unable to think of anything useful to say.

“You brought your young friend here … why?”

“Uh, she's a librarian? I thought she'd like to see a Library?”

“Did I not say you are the Fae of Hope? You offer not just the hope of true choice, but hope for a better life. Is that not why you contacted Magdaleana?”

I started feeling uncomfortable. Maybe we should have just gone clubbing.

“I want good people to be happy. If Eliza would be happier putting books back together than advising her sister on Cait Sidhe politics, and I could help, why not?”

Hearing her name brought Eliza's attention back to us; she'd been gazing about with a look of fascination.

“I have not taken an apprentice in many years,” said Matt. He looked at her searchingly. “But perhaps it's to soon for you to make a decision like that. I'll start by setting you up with a Library card. You can come and go, and become familiar with the Library.”

“These are days of wonder!” she said. “First I am turned true fae, and now I am getting a Library card for a Library I thought no longer existed.

“Sir Daye, if there is ever anything I can do for you, I hope you will not hesitate to call on me.”

I smiled wryly. “I may take you up on that one day. Hopefully it will not involve blood. Much.”

Back in Centaur form, Matt headed into the between-stacks gloom, his horse body nearly filling the aisle.

While we waited for him to produce the Library card, in whatever form that took, Eliza examined the shelves nearest the sitting area. I made myself comfortable on an armchair. From quite another direction than Matt had vanished, I heard the sound of someone approaching. I stood up, my hand close to my knife. Even in a Library, you can't be too careful.

A tall, thin person, with long curly hair stepped into the lamplight. Ceres. Of course she would have a Library card!

“October, my dear!” she said. “I thought I heard voices.” She held out her hands; I took them and she bent to kiss my cheek. “I am so happy to see you.”

Eliza turned toward us, a book in either hand, a finger already in one.

“Ceres, may I present Eliza Bridges, daughter of Jolgeir, King of Cats.”

Eliza set the books down and curtsied.

“Eliza, this is Ceres, Blodynbryd and rose breeder.” I thought giving Ceres' whole pedigree might be a little over the top for Eliza.

“It's a pleasure to meet a friend of October,” said Ceres. “Are you any relation to the merlin apothecary Elizabeth Bridges?”

I managed to keep my jaw from dropping. How did she know?

“I am her daughter. Yes, she was a merlin,” said Eliza.

“I am so sorry for your loss!” said Ceres. “She was a great herbalist.”

“No, no--she was a merlin,” Eliza said hastily, “but she is a changeling now, and in a few days she'll be fully fae!”

“That is a great relief,” replied Ceres. “This is no doubt due to October's working?”

“Yes,” I said. “But how did you know she was a merlin? And when did you meet her?”

“I have never met Mrs. Bridges, but I have ordered essential oils and tinctures from her. The faint single note of her mint magic signature concentrated into the extracts was all I needed.”

“Even she didn't know she was a merlin until a few days ago. I suspect she's been using magic subconsciously in her herb work for years. How did you, uh, communicate with her?”

Ceres raised her eyebrows. “Have those little electric devices completely supplanted traditional mail? The Library has a post office box, and subscribes to her catalogue. I send rose extracts to her in exchange for many things I do not grow.” She smiled, and I realized she was gently teasing me.

The light clipping sound heralded Matt's return. He bowed slightly to Ceres. “I see you have met! That's good, very good.” He handed Eliza a small pouch. “This is the token that will open the door. Do you have your phone? Let me give you the app for finding your way here.”

They pulled out their phones and solemnly bumped them together, accompanied by tapping and swiping.

“Matthew, dear, while you are preparing Library cards, please be so kind as to procure one for Elizabeth Bridges, of Green Leaf Herbs. It seems she is this young lady's mother, and another beneficiary of Sir Daye's remarkable talent.”

He looked startled, but turned again to the nether regions of the Library. I wasn't miffed, much, that I didn't have a Library card at all, and this Librarian was handing them out like candy.

We chatted a little while waiting, then Ceres sat down and wrote a short note for Eliza to give to her mother.

“Tell her I so look forward to meeting her, after exchanging herbals for years. She will know of me as Rosalind Woods.”

Matt returned shortly, with another pouch, and an envelope addressed to Libby. “This is a direction card for the Library. It's old-fashioned, but I thought Mrs. Bridges might prefer it to the phone app, as Lady Ceres does.”

The various items went into Eliza's skirt pockets, and we made our goodbyes. I thought she looked a little shell-shocked, and figured that was enough for the evening.

As we passed out through the steel door, I noted the un-glamoured rose bushes were in fact healthy, well-grown, and fragrant. Thanks to Ceres, no doubt.

We took a cab, not the bus, back to the house.