Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.
His back to the sun's last remnant in the sky, Adewole started the long walk home. His stomach grumbled at him. He remembered the sandwiches he'd stuffed in his pockets hours ago; he put the satchel down, fished one out, and unwrapped it. "We are alone now, child," he murmured.
A muffled voice from inside the satchel said, "Was that your owl friend? I wish I could see her."
"Some day. You are being a very good girl, so quiet and calm. You must be quiet when I say so, and stay quiet until I say so. Can you do this?"
"It hurts more when we don't talk, but I'll be quiet, Ollie. Thank you for not leaving me alone," said Alleine.
"You are welcome." They spent the walk in conversation, though his voice grew hoarse; they'd talked a great deal in the Ossuary. The closer they came to the City the more often he had to shush her, until he said, "More people will be near from now on. You must stay silent."
All the way back he'd been pondering what to do. Take her home? Take her to the Library? She would be alone at night, but she would be alone at night if he were to keep her in his room; he had to sleep some time. He and Mr. Buckan were the only ones who had keys to his office, and as far as he knew Buckan stayed out. The books and translations were of little use to the librarian; the first were in Cherholtz's strange version of Old Rhendalian and the second were in the modern tongue, and Buckan understood neither.
Now Adewole had found Alleine, the translations bothered him even more. Deviatka pestered him for more information on the diagrams, and Adewole rued the day he'd shared them. He couldn't show anyone anything more, especially Karl. If his friend understood the notebook's schematics and potential, and then learned he'd discovered the Machine God's heart…
Karl was his best friend, a good man, but he was also an ambitious man. Power like the Machine God's might be irresistible, might corrupt even a man without ambition. Adewole's sole ambition was academic--to keep Alleine's trove of historical detail to himself. He wanted enough wealth to maintain his coffee and music habits, perhaps a little more--a better living situation, money for the water taxis. He might gain it through publishing his research, and perhaps he would make a lecture tour. He would enjoy lecturing to adoring crowds in Jero. In his less proud moments, he imagined his jealous former colleagues in the audience. As for anything else, he was no crusader. Curing the world's ills was beyond his wisdom, and he had enough wisdom to know it.
Eventually Adewole decided Alleine would be safest hidden for now in the Library rare book room. It locked, and she would be quite comfortable. He spent his days there anyway and some of his nights, though Wirtz had taken to winkling him out of the Library past eleven at night. When they reached the quadrangle farms, Adewole sprang up the Library stairs, strode into the rare book room and left Alleine hidden among the stacks. "Do not speak, child, and I will see you in the morning. I will come as early as I may. Yes, there is ichor here, I am taking it away right now," he said, pocketing the little reading lamp on his desk. When he got home, he would have Wirtz commandeer a standard lantern. It might cause remark, but he could chalk it up to native superstition. Risentoner superstitions had some basis in fact, and he didn't enjoy belittling them, but in this case he would make an exception.
Adewole said nothing about Alleine to Deviatka on his return; he tossed off his brandy and water and declined music, pleading a headache. A concerned Corporal Wirtz asked if he should send for Doctor Ansel, but Adewole begged off. "I am not ill. I miss my after-dinner coffee, and my breakfast coffee, and my afternoon coffee. It has been months and months. Might you ask Ambassador Weil's people if they would check on my missing trunk? It has never found its way to me from Jero, and it contained all my coffee."
"You should just ask for new--you've earned a little treat for services rendered. Someone absconded with your trunk long ago," said Deviatka.
"Undoubtedly," agreed Adewole, "but 'hope never dies in the faithful heart.'"
The next day, Adewole left bright and early, up before even the early-rising Deviatka. Poor Wirtz yawned pink from sleep as he packed lunch "with extra for breakfast and possibly tea, sir, since you leave so early and come back so late some nights."
On arriving at the rare book room, Adewole locked the door behind him, lit his new lantern, and pulled Alleine from her hiding place. She chattered like a relieved little magpie. "I'm so glad you came back, Ollie, I forgot how awful it is when you want to sleep and can't. I mean, I don't get tired, but it's so boring, and I hurt more. What are we gonna do today? Talk some more?"
"I am going to work on my translations, and ask you questions about them if I think you might be able to help me understand. You might not be able to answer them, but shall we try?"
"I'd like to help you, that'd be nice."
"All right, then." Adewole made a show of thumbing through his papers. She wouldn't want to talk about the notebook. He would work up to it, all the while feeling like a traitor. He picked up what might be a novel. Translating it made for a good palate cleanser when work on Vatterbroch's notebook became too difficult to stomach. "This book describes the marketplace in part, and I know you used to spend a good deal of time there. Can you tell me what the marketplace was like?"
"That's where Maria Kyper's stall is. You remember me tellin' you about her?"
"What did she sell?"
"Sweets, at least that's what I always liked about her place. Sweets in little paper packets. I like honey drops best. That's mostly what I got for running errands. She calls sweets 'in-promp-toos'--she says that means people buy 'em cuz they're there. Mostly she sells notions. You know, stuff for makin' dresses and hats and such--thread, needles, buttons, ribbons. I ast for a ribbon once, a red one, instead of sweets or coins. I want one to tie my hair back real bad, and then ribbons're so pretty, ain't they? I might not look so homely if I had a ribbon in my hair, or maybe I'd just watch it flutter. Anyway, Maria Kyper usually paid me no mind, but I musta ast one too many times. She boxed my ears and said never ask again."
"This was a lady you liked?" said Adewole.
"Oh she ain't no lady, Ollie, how funny you are, she's a stallkeeper. Course I like her. She's nice to me."
"She boxed your ears."
"Pfft. That ain't nothin'," said Alleine in scorn. "I had much worse than boxed ears. Stars keep me if I couldn't bear a boxed ear. No one ever boxed your ears? You never boxed your sister's ears?"
"I would have boxed the ears of anyone who hurt my sister," said Adewole, "and no one should ever have laid a hand on you in anger, either."
Read the rest of this post