|Goodbye Babar. We loved you dearly.|
Old Mr Baleigh was standing at the register, adding up what was to be the last of his sennight sums, whilst his wife and their children were walking up and down the spiral stairs, bringingdown all the books shelved along the highest row. Boxes lined the floor, packing paper and ribbons were strewn about, sale signs cluttered the windows, the dust of thirty years hung lifeless in shafts of morning light, the gilding of perfectly prim pages shone incanescent, the shriek of rolling ladders mourned in perennial soliloquy. The gentle peal of the bell at the top of the door caromed throughout the shoppe, and the Baleigh family turned to find King Alasdair approaching the counter. Time moved in a slow bustle, feelings of confusion accompanied the animation and clamour of standing before the king. Everything was to be done in a hurry: Mrs Baleigh whispered to her children in a feverish hush, demanding they run and put on their aprons and return with their best smiles, whilst Mr Baleigh bowed and welcomed Alasdair to their establishment.
“Majesty,” said Mr Baleigh, with all the grandeur that his anguish and astonishment would allow, “come for the new Tales of Intrigues? Pastaddams wouldn’t share it with you, I expect? I cannot say I am surprised. It really is one of their best. Dashing captains and daring duels and forbidden romance, and all that. Amazing to me that after all these years, they still are so well written. A rarity in romance literature these days, I’m afraid.”
A short silence succeeded, and the king’s sanguine expression made Mr Baleigh uneasy.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the news, Majesty,” said Mr Baleigh, drumming his fingers along the counter, his eyes low.
“I did, and I’ve come to wish you joy,” Alasdair proudly announced.
Mr Baleigh was a little shaken here. “Joy, Majesty?” He floddered and fumbled with his spectacles, and looked as though he did not understand him.
“Well, you have a new landlord.”
Mr Baleigh glanced anxiously at his wife. “Do we, Majesty? I thought that was to be settled at the end of the month.”
“I decided to settle it now. I never like having anything long in hand if I can help it.”
Alasdair placed a small cylinder on the counter and opened it as Mrs Baleigh attached herself to her husband. A carefully rolled contract was unfurled and laid out and presented to the Mr and Mrs as their children came toward the counter.
“The kingdom decided to act in the best interests of the business,” said Alasdair, with eager exultation. “In thirty years, this bookstore has become a Diras landmark and a Frewyn institution, and it isn’t right that it should be Marridon owned. The kingdom has reneged the building rights it once gave to the builders, paid for the lot, and,” his countenance crimsoning in unabashed elation, “I am your new landlord.”
“What--?” Mrs Baleigh aspirated, her voice faltering.
“How--?” Mr Baleigh breathed, gawping at the contract. “How can this be…?”
The Baleigh children attacked one another with exulting embraces, leaping up and down and ululating in unbridled ecstasy, while the Mr and Mrs read over the paper in their hands: it was a copy of a deed, one marking out their building as now being reserved for a public enterprise owned by the crown. The Brennin seal was pressed fresh into the corner, the marks of the treasurer, steward, and king ornamented the bottom, and everything was all arranged and settled and signed. The kingdom had acted for them, their sovereign had saved their business, but how it was all done, how everything had gone from the announcement of their removal until the king’s arrival was yet unintelligible. With an astonishment that Mr Baleigh could hardly restrain, he showed the deed to his wife and children, who were already looking it over and reading it aloud.
“The rent will be just the same,” said Alasdair, “so there should be no change for you in that respect.”
“But, Majesty!” Mr Baleigh cried, when he could speak, his hands tremulous, his spirit oppressed by the force of such benevolence. “How is it possible? How was it all done?”
“We were able to buy the property with the stipulation that at least part of this venture would be for public use. We are reopening this shoppe as the new national library,” said Alasdair, with a triumphant gesture. “You can keep it as Baleigh’s Books, of course. It will be only the new national library on paper, and a small portion of the shoppe will have to be put aside for lending. I know the national library is in Farriage, but we thought a branch might be opened here. You may keep your shoppe as it is. You might even add to it now that it is public property. You can appeal to the kingdom to have it expanded after a time, and since it is a kingdom run operation, you won’t have to pay property taxes, and you can live here and run it just as you are now. A small portion of what you make will have to go to the library, but that can be written of as a donation, which will count toward your income taxes at the end of the year.”
The Baleigh’s were silent throughout this speech, the children suffering under all the pleasure of relief, and Mr and Mrs Baleigh struck with all the exultation of having what they had resigned as lost now so suddenly restored.
“Oh, and since part of the funding for the project came from the foundation,” Alasdair continued, “you receive this.” He took a small plaque from his pocket and turned it to face them. “This will show the shoppe’s status as part of the crown conglomerate. That means you may invite book groups here, have reading programmes, and perform any of the community services which a library provides. You can even hold events at the expense of the kingdom, if the situation calls for it. I’m sure there are many who would love to join a winter reading haul. I’ll gladly be your first member once you are well settled. Well,” moving to go, “I’ll give you a moment to enjoy your new enterprise.”
He turned, and before the Baleigh’s could offer a word of thanks, the bell atop the door rang and echoed, the dust of thirty years rattled, and the king was gone. His work had been done, and he left the high street in all the exuberance that being in his situation must give, for being in a position to help his kingdom was all Alasdair had ever aspired to. He was glad it might be done, glad he could salvage a glorious institution from the wreck of dividends and unfeeling affairs. Baleigh’s belonged to Frewyn, and now it was a place that no landlord could touch, no businessman abuse, and he glanced back through the window in time to discover all the sensations of first recognition, the unmitigated familial felicity whose upheaval was overturned, whose fated was unfixed. Alasdair had a moment’s fear that the owner of the building would not accept the offer that was made, but as Aldus had sent it through with a note from his office, that the kingdom of Frewyn should be very much obliged if this property was handed over to the crown, and with pointed attention relayed how eminent such a business was and how very much loved by the king and all his set it was, the owner was very persuadable, and all Alasdair apprehensions had been thoroughly done away. The building belonged to the crown, the Baleigh family and their books would be a Frewyn heritage, and Alasdair danced back to the keep, his heart reveling in all the goodwill that his regal powers could supply.
His walk, however, was stopped by a sudden shadow that darted out of the adjacent alley. He moved in time to miss the first assault, but swiftly stepped to the side and raised his hands to catch the second. The second, however, never came: the shadow moved to the sunlight, the hood of a black cloak was pulled back, and a familiar bearded face was before him.
“By the Gods-- Vyrdin!” Alasdair panted, lowering his hands.
Vyrdin’s beard shifted, hinting a smile. “You still remember your training.”
Alasdair exhaled and raised his hand to his brow. “Between you and Rautu—both of you always creeping about—I know it is your job, Vyrdin but—“ A sudden notion struck him. “Why are you here? You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”
“I was going to,” said Vyrdin unaffectedly. “Rosamound asked me to come see you first.”
“Good, I’m glad she did.” Alasdair peered around him. “Where is my father?”
“Bryeison is holding him captive. They’re with Brigdan and Dobhin at the garrison. And Gaumhin is consoling his husband.”
“They should be rejoicing. Well, we had better tell everyone the good news and get on with the day. I still have a full morning of court to go through.”
Alasdair stepped toward the street again, but a hand on his shoulder stopped and compelled him to turn back. Vyrdin was regarding him with a sincere aspect, the bend of his brow conveying an indebtedness that Alasdair could not but recognize under the fulmination of grey curls.
“Thank you,” was Vyrdin’s artless appreciation.
Alasdair smiled. “Thank Count Rosse.”
“It is principally his tax money that went to fund the purchase. Aldus always divides it between education and public works when its collected. He just put it back together.”
Vyrdin considered how much he loved his father-in-law just now. “Does Rosse know?”
“No, and Aldus has made it so he will absolutely never find out.”
They walked back to the keep together, each of them gratulating in all the happiness that thwarting Count Rosse could furnish, and when they came to the front gate, where Mureadh was just coming to his morning post, Alasdair turned back to Vyrdin and said a quiet, “Thank you for not killing anybody.”
“I would have made it quiet.”
“I know you would have. You might love Ros and Brigdan and all of us, but we all know you are married to your library.”
“Depriving a community of their right to read is an injustice I would gladly go to Karnwyl for.”
“I would have just opened the castle library to the public, you know.”
“It’s not the same as owning a book.”
“You hardly let anyone touch yours.”
“Which is why it’s not the same as owning a book.” Here was a side glance from Vyrdin. “I have first editions your grandfather gave me. Those are not to be allowed out of my room.”
“I’ve always considered myself fortunate that you’ve allowed me to near them at least—wait,” said Alasdair, peering into the gallery and toward the arena. “Where is Teague?”
Vyrdin’s brow arched. “How do you think we got the Marridon owner to sign his building rights over to the kingdom so quickly?”
Alasdair held his head in his hands. “Please tell me he did not torture him.”
“I told him to be prudent.”
“Well, I suppose that is some relief.”
They went on in the same style, moving by gentle gradations toward the kitchen, where everyone was gathered to hear that Baleigh’s Books should remain open as part of the new national library and should be a pillar of scholarship in the kingdom’s capital for as long as the crown was its benefactor. They praised benevolence and Aldus’ thoughtfulness, and everyone agreed that the generations of Frewyn’s readers should laud the Brennin virtues, a family which stood for being the friend of education, the aegis of literacy, and the sentry of pedantic pursuits. It was Brigdan who offered the highest commendation: his grandfather, the great advocate of literacy and education, should be proud of him, and while everyone went off in high good humour to begin their work for the day, Alasdair, Brigdan, and Vyrdin went to the treasury, to say a word of thanks to Aldus, each of them in the full conviction that while there was wealth enough to furnish the kingdom in the treasury, the currency on which the kingdom depended was its literary stores.