Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

FOTW with Kumquat and Butter Pecan

Author: rustydragonfly
Challenge: FOTW (Cashew 18: mint condition), Kumquat 10 (the world is my oyster), Butter Pecan 14 (quiet)
Wordcount: 3141
Rating: all ages
Story: Manifestations
Summary: Jen's story: the way to strength is not always through toughness.
Notes: Trying something a little different, a mini-arc story for everyone while in Kastek. Dhaymin and Rosa will get their turns too, but I just had to start with librarian!Jen, because it was about time he got a bit of character development.

"and the last of them, with the sign of the bittern, let them take him to the tallest height and..."

Rosa put aside her book, realising someone was there as she heard a hesitant cough. "Hello?" The speaker was a tall man, his accent clearly Rhusavi. "I'm looking for the librarian."

"I don't know, I'm just visiting." He was looking at her now as though he knew her, and she took her book up again. Had she met him before? He looked a little familiar... "Try the other end. There's usually somebody there."

"Thankyou," he said, and before she could say any more, he was gone. She flipped through the pages, looking for the spot she'd left off at.

She had met him before. She just didn't know when.


Jen had never seen a library so big.

It must be the size of the hall back home, or even greater. There, the library had been a tiny room with only a few shelves in the dark, and nowhere to hide, if anyone suspected he was in there. Sarn frequently did, until Jen learnt to be more careful. But if Sarn had owned this library, Jen could have kept him guessing and searching for hours. Shelves receded into the dark, galleries above his head creaked with the footsteps of the few visitors - possibly some of the last students, unable to spend the winter with their families.

A quiet cathedral of books, Jen supposed, full of those who couldn't go home.

He hadn't meant to come here, but Dhaymin had dropped him into it after he'd found himself unable to think of anything he could do. "Jen will be the best librarian you ever met!" he'd said, and that was the end of it. Jen supposed it didn't matter. He'd been told to come here, so he was only doing as he'd been ordered. That made everything fine, for now.

But where was he supposed to be? The girl from the lakeside didn't know, but she'd pointed him toward the back, where the bright morning light streaming in from the windows at his back faded into lamp-lit gloom. He wandered through darkened shelves, so tall even he couldn't reach the highest, occasionally taking a peek at a half-lit spine. His path led him underneath the broadest gallery, and here the shelves grew shorter, the ceiling, occasionally creaking with a footstep as someone passed by above, barely missing his head. Save that, and his own breath, there was silence. He found himself lost in a world of books, winding his way through gaps so narrow he sometimes had to take a deep breath and inch through sideways to make it. He'd never felt so entombed even when he'd been to the city's depths to meet Ardea, but it was not an oppressive sensation. In the quiet and the dark, amid shielded lamps and the dry smell of old paper, it was the most peaceful space he'd known in a long time. He stopped to read a few covers, on a shelf not so neatly aligned, and found an eclectic mix - star charts, volumes on the habits of monsters (accuracy not guaranteed, he thought), a few old novels that promised scenes full of words he'd stumbled on when younger and found Dhaymin knew all too many of their meanings...

Eventually he found a door hidden away in the back wall, dark wood against dark stone, and knocked. "Come on in," he heard, a voice that was not unwelcoming, but perhaps a little annoyed at being disturbed. He pushed it open gently, and stepped inside.

The little room smelt of paper, leather, and glue, the air so heavy and thick he felt he were swimming through scents. A few volumes lay stacked on a table that dominated most of the centre, and at that table sat a figure, tall and lean with silver hair tied well back. Whoever they were, they were too engrossed in their work to bother getting up to greet him, so Jen moved closer, to see. The figure was a woman, perhaps his mother's age, though she reminded Jen, with a twinge of memory, of Bala. She worked by the light of a shielded lamp, stitching together an old book's binding with meticulous care.

"I am your assistant," he said, making the gesture of offering.

She didn't look up. "Good. You're Ardea's stray, aren't you? Heard some talk going on. The old thing's soft, but if that's his way, it's his way. Go tidy the shelves, would you? They're out of order again."

"Just tidy them?" said Jen.

"Yes, and put them back where they belong. I'd wanted to do it all winter, but all these repairs come first. Them who read, spend too much time breaking. And these, I had someone bring them in after doing some cleaning. Valuable words, terrible state." She spoke without ever taking her gaze from the bare spine, never missing a stitch. "Everything else becomes a mess..."

Jen thought of the jumbled shelves and their haphazard subjects. "I don't know where they go."

"You'll find out."

Jen cursed Dhaymin in his head as he stepped out of the musty little workroom, and wondered if, wherever he was, he was getting thrown into the metaphorical lake too.


At first he headed for the jumbled shelf, looking for a familiar sight, but he found himself lost among the shelves after a few wrong turns. Checking the shelf behind him, he spotted a different random mix, and took a few down to get a better look. The first in his hand turned out to be a volume of recipes, though on flicking through he found most of them unfamiliar. A little more searching revealed, amongst other things, a collection of Rhusavi folk tales. Some he did not know, but he recognised one or two - tales his parents had told, when he was young enough to hear stories. Here was the story of the three hares and three rabbits, and here was Rakaros and the box at the end of the world. His father had told him that last one, to remind him how important it was to fight for all that was good.

Jen closed the book, a puff of dust rising as the pages slammed shut. Father would be angry to see him here - no, Father would understand he was doing what he needed to keep from the cold. No, he would understand, but ask why he wasn't doing something else.

I'm sorry, he thought. But Father was dead, and for the first time, the weight of that fact sank into Jen's thoughts. He'd been running so long, he'd never had a chance to let it sink in. Father is dead, he thought, and it was like picking at his scar.

He spent the rest of the day losing himself in work, letting the task at hand smooth over any worrying thoughts and facts. Despite his protests, he found the library's organisation easy to grasp after a little looking around and guessing, and he was soon running back and forth across the galleries, looking for just the right place to put the next lost book. It wasn't long before he was so engrossed in his task, he forgot that twinge for a few hours.

When the time came to leave, though, he took the book of folktales with him, tucked away in his coat.


"...so it ends with the hawk dying and his life gone to shit?" Dhaymin said. "Do any of these end well?"

"You know as well as I do they don't," said Jen.

"Come on. One of them has to have a good ending."

"I suppose there's Rakaros and the box at the end of the world," Jen said, "but everybody dies at the end of that one." It was also a Toxiliviti tale, if he wanted to be picky. It probably didn't count.

Ardea had let them stay in a pair of his students' rooms, claiming they were empty at the best of times. ("I know at least one place he could get some," Dhaymin had commented, before going silent.) They were small, just a bed each, but comfortable enough after months of makeshift shelter and borrowed mattresses. Jen had found himself pacing up and down in his room once alone, reminding himself over and over it was his, for the rest of winter, and he was safe. His mind wandered, and he thought of claws sinking into the snow, teeth bared in hunger, but forgot about it. He didn't have to keep running as long as he was walled up.

The idea that he had nothing to do but look forward to another day of close packed shelves and the smell of paper should have been a welcome one, but the quiet was a little too much, and he'd started talking to Dhaymin who, in typical fashion, had demanded he share his book. And in typical fashion, had complained about it.

"Everyone dying's better," said Dhaymin. "They might come back as someone better off." He lay stretched out on the bed, arms behind his back, while Jen sat on the edge with the book in his lap. "I always wondered what Father would come back as."


A grin spread over Dhaymin's face. "I wonder if he was that bird I roasted today."

"Dhaymin, stop that!" Jen closed the book. "Please."

"Aw, Jen," Dhaymin said, pushing himself upright so he was propped up on one elbow. "I wouldn't mean that, you know. You still respected him, didn't you?"

"He was our father," Jen said, in a quiet voice.

"Taught me how to shoot, all by himself," Dhaymin said. "You wouldn't remember that. Big lot of good it did now, though." He scratched one of his face scars, nudging the blindfold aside. Jen looked away. "Listen. I'm sorry."

Jen stared at the leather cover, its surface finely pitted and grooved, dark wine-red stain pooling in the cracks. "We should go and eat," he said.

"That's an idea I can get behind," Dhaymin said. "I know where there's good food. I'll take you if you find some happier stories."

"They're realistic!" protested Jen.

"I've had enough of realistic for one lifetime," Dhaymin said. "I'd like to put it off until my next time around." He stood up, smoothing down his clothes. "Come on. Leave that thing behind."

Jen looked at the book again, and placed it on the bed before standing up beside his brother. "Yes," he said. "Let's go."


He returned the next morning with the book in his coat, meaning to put it back in its rightful place, as soon as he remembered just where that was. But he found himself in a quiet corner, turning a few pages, and came again to the story he'd read to Dhaymin.

Jen rubbed his eyes as he came to the end of the short tale. It wasn't fair that it should end that way. Dhaymin had been right about that. But not being fair, Jen felt, was the point. It was supposed to be about loss, pain, becoming a man. And Dhaymin's probably felt more of that than any of us, he thought. Perhaps Dhaymin had a point. It's not fair! screamed a forgotten part of him, hidden in a dark corner. He silenced it, and closed the book. I sound like a child.

He stood up, meaning to take it back properly this time, and made his way to the central hall, ringed with galleries and bathed in golden winter sunlight. Unable to decide, though, he went back to the dusty, paper scented room he'd first seen the librarian in, hoping to find her there. After a few minutes of trying to remember the way through the tight packed shelves and darkened, silent corners, he made it to the door, only to find she wasn't alone.

"Thank you, most kindly."

"If you need any more, you just- ah. It's you." It was the first time he'd ever seen the librarian look directly at him. "You lost?"

"A little," Jen said.

"Ah, it is you." The second person, leaning on his cane and holding a book of his own, was Ardea himself. "How is she treating you? Well?"

"Well enough," said the librarian, who wasted no time in sitting back down. She was just about to get back to work when she paused, needle in hand. "Wait a moment. What's that you have there? Is it damaged? Let me see."

"I-" Jen began, but thought better of it. What would she say if she knew he'd taken it away last night? He was sure he'd kept it safe, even when slamming it shut after more of Dhaymin's comments. "I just found it and didn't know where to put it." He laid it down on the table before her, and braced himself.

She picked it up, examining the cover. Turning the book over, she opened it, very carefully, and placed it on the table. The sound of turning pages filled the room, and Jen hardly dared move. Ardea, who had been content to stand by and let the scene unfold, moved a little closer, listening in. At last, she closed the book, not with the sharp snap Jen had employed, but with care and reverence. "Where did you find this?" she said, as usual never turning to face it.

She knew what he'd done. People always knew. "It was on a shelf outside," he said. "I just picked it up."

For a few seconds, she did not answer. Jen steadied himself, and finally, she spoke. "I've been looking for this for a long time," she said. "I had been afraid it was lost, or stolen. You would know who put it there?"

"No," said Jen. That, at least, was the truth.

"I suppose not," she said. "Well, I'm glad it turned up."

"Might I ask what all this talk is about?" put in Ardea.

"Gladly." The librarian stood up, taking up the book again. "This is a very valuable collection, and one I misplaced some time ago. I have a second copy, but it was in dreadful condition. Even I could only do so much." She laid a hand on the work table, before the glue and threads. "Your friend here saved me a lot of work, picking it up as he did. Quite unusual he found it so quickly. Luck?" She smiled, looked up at him, and her eyes met his. "You don't look so pleased with yourself. I would be. Was it luck?"

"I told you, I just found it."

"Is that all?"

No wonder he'd thought of Bala when he first met her! Jen looked back and forth, from Ardea, to the librarian, and took a deep breath. "I took it with me last night," he said. "I'm sorry. I only wanted my brother to-"

"I know how you mean," cut in Ardea. He tapped his cane on the floor, before the librarian could say anything. "You never asked me what I, of all people, would want with a book, did you?"

"I had wondered," said the librarian, with a smile.

"Then don't," Ardea said. "And don't be too hard on him."

"Did you really think I would be?"

"I would not put it past you," said Ardea, and now he too was smiling.

Jen stood in silence, not sure of what to say. Was it more luck, that Ardea had been there at just the right time? The librarian flicked a few specks of dust from the book's cover, and stepped forward. Like most people Jen met, she was far shorter than him, but made up for it in presence. Some people were born to feel tall, even if they were not. Jen supposed, if that were the case, he should have been a lot smaller. "I do have one thing to ask of you," she said.


"Ask first. Now go on. You have work to do!"


"I brought you something." Jen pushed the door open, and wondered what Father would have said about today’s events.

"Has it got any better endings?"

"Hard to say. It's a book of recipes."

"Sounds like a good ending to me," Dhaymin said, standing up. "What's in it? I'd like to try something."

"Let me see." Jen sat on the edge of the bed, leafing through the pages. It was probably inevitable that Dhaymin would end up as a cook, even if Father would have found it odd. On the occasions they'd had to find their own food when young, Jen had always left it to Dhaymin, from butchering to cooking. He'd even snuck into the kitchens at home, at first just to steal a little extra, but then he'd started to learn more about what he was doing. The first time he'd tried baking bread had been especially memorable...

But instead, Dhaymin looked lost in thought. "You sound pleased with yourself. Something good happen?"

Jen let his eyes follow a few words, just skimming the page. "Yes," he said. "Suppose it did."

"Do you have any candles?"

"What, what are you doing to make with those?"

"Nothing much." Dhaymin stood, motionless, arms clasped behind his back. "There was something I wanted to do, that's all."


The city lay before them. Concentric, tiered layers fell outward to faraway streets, dotted with points of light and interwoven with aqueducts. Snow, whipped by the wind, blew past them as they sat around the tiny candle. The terrace was slick and icy, shimmering in the lamplight behind their backs. The candle sat between them, sheltered by their bodies and burning heedless of the weather.

They owned nothing belonging to Sarn that was fit to burn, and his body had long since gone back to the flames. Jen wouldn’t have thought of it. But, he supposed, it would do. So many things were like that. Imperfect, but enough.

“He was our father,” Jen said. “He mattered, didn’t he?”

“Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.” Dhaymin sat hunched over, arms wrapped around his knees against the cold. Don’t regret losing him. Look what he did to you.”

“He tried. Give him that.”

“I know. And when he tried, he was a terrible person. Hope he’s someone better now.”

Jen watched the tiny flame dance and waver, the wax pooling as the candle burned ever smaller. “I hope so too,” he said. And that was enough for him.

They waited on the windswept terrace, until at last the candle burnt itself out, and a tiny wisp of smoke rose until it too was blown away over the cityscape. Jen stood, let Dhaymin take his arm, and together they returned inside, to warmth, and beds, and sleep. They would need it. There was always tomorrow to be ready for, after all.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
oh man Jen we need to be friends. FOREVER. Libraries are amazing and wonderful and you just need to check out the book first and I love that librarian and the wonderful meditation on libraries and basically all of this.
Jun. 10th, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC)

Thanks so much. This is really where Jen starts to come into his own, I loved letting him grow stronger for once.
Jun. 16th, 2012 04:50 am (UTC)
This seems like a really perfect and amazing job for Jen and I was just aching for him throughout the whole piece because he kept on worrying what Sarn would think. Hopefully he'll be able to relax somewhat after burning the candle with Dhaymin. The librarian is also awesome. :D
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Runaway Tales



Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow