As we all know, time flows differently on the other side of the Border, and it was three weeks before Liath was back to Kinrowan Hall. She returned on a Saturday, so it was a full four weeks before she graced Chix with Stix again. All the usuals were there early, plus a few who don’t know one end of a knitting needle from the other. As so often happens, someone suddenly noticed that Liath was on.
We turned toward her as one. Liath looked up. ‘Was there something? You know I can’t talk about my missions for the Queen.’ The sight of our disappointed faces must have been too much for her, and we were graced with one of her rare smiles.
‘Ah yes, I remember. Now where was I?’ We all settled back comfortably and she began to tell the tale of a departed Fey Librarian and why it happened.
‘The next day, we set the plan into action. The girls were models of obedience. No matter what Rónán wanted, he got it. Only, they suddenly seemed to need a lot of supervision. “Rónán, is this right?” “Rónán, could you explain what you want again, please?” “Rónán, where do you want the papyri?” Rónán indeed! For about a day and a half he was in fine fettle. Felt vindicated — obviously these little chits couldn’t do anything without him. Then it started to wear on him. He’d gotten used to having intelligent help, you see, though darn the fear of him ever admitting it. By the time the moon was almost full he was in a frenzy of impatience.
‘A storm blew in on the day of the full moon, and by evening there were neither stars nor moon to be seen. Every cat in the Building, and not a few two-legged creatures, stalked around with hair on end. This room had been assigned as the Annies’ workroom from their arrival. I knew the trap was being sprung, and I was in here alone, pacing much like you were, Young Annie. Then I heard a blast, the kind that only comes from a great and angry Magic.
‘I hurried into the main Library. It was empty of living creatures, but most of the volumes that should have been on the shelves were in heaps on the floor. The air was thick with smoke, but fortunately I couldn’t find any flames. This had gone further than any of us had expected. What had that mad cousin of mine done with the Annies? A few of my colleagues crowded, terrified, at the door. I held up a hand to still their chatter. Then I closed my eyes and Saw where they had gone.
‘Rónán has taken the Annies to Alexandria,’ I said. ‘I must go after them.’
‘But how did he take them?’ asked another of the Annies, the one with the beauty spot on her left cheekbone.
‘The same way I brought them here, and the same way I followed them. By the time I got there, the Annies were dodging from pillar to pillar, trying to get away from the gouts of fire shooting from Rónán’s hair. The place was on fire. ‘Rónán!’ I cried. No response from him. Then I whispered his name, and he turned toward me. ‘Liath! It’s all your doing! Bringing these little fools into my Library. I’ll destroy them, and this bad joke of a human Library with them. What right have these mortals to dare to pretend to any knowledge?’ Flames shot out toward me, and I moved to put wards around myself. Rónán was foaming at the mouth, cursing the four of us. ‘By the Queen’s milk, I’ll kill you all,’ he gibbered. That was his last mistake.
‘The Queen doesn’t like her name being used to curse, of course, and the King is none too fond of any insult to his Liege Lady. Once Rónán uttered his nonsensical curse, there were both of Their Majesties in an instant. One look from the Queen froze Rónán where he stood. One gesture from the King put out the fires.’
‘Did they kill him?’ breathed the third Annie.
‘No, of course not. We of the Fey seldom resort to such punishment. Let’s just say that he has had some time to contemplate his crimes in tranquility, and that I hope someday, for my aunt’s sake, to hear that he has been rehabilitated. I brought the Annies back here and set them to cleaning up the Library. Soon enough, I was called to Court, and every other creature of the Fey associated with the Building along with me.
‘Never again shall one of you take the position of Librarian for Kinrowan Estate,’ said His Majesty gravely. ‘You have too much power. Rónán could have destroyed the greatest of the mortals’ stores of knowledge, as well as one that may someday rival it. Liath, you can remain as Archivist. Be the Building’s memory, and help in finding a succession of mortals to run its Library.’
Liath bit off the silken yarn with those sharp little teeth of hers and held up another of her lovely amulet bags. The crystals refracted the firelight, sending multicoloured flames dancing around the room.
‘And so it has been ever since. I persuaded one of the under-librarians from the Great Library to come and work here for a while. ‘Tis thanks to him that we have the collections in the room with the pillars. Annie, Ana and Hannah served out their time and a day and then moved on. When new apprentices came, we kept calling them all Annie, but in remembrance, not scorn. All three of the original Annies came back for a time as Librarian, too.’
Liath gave us her second smile of the evening. ‘I never could get Hannah to tell me what was the last thing she said to Rónán that set him off.’