I was supposed to be taking today off, since Mr. M is off, but I have failed rather spectacularly at that, so here’s a tiny, non-spoilery snippet of my new romantic fantasy. If I’m working, at least it should be fun, right? :)
This is still rough draft, subject to change, etc, etc. Happy reading!
The first door I tried was locked tight, so I moved on until I found a door standing open. I peeked inside, and my breath caught—it was an enormous library, three stories tall and filled with heavy wooden bookcases holding what had to be thousands of books.
I’d heard rumors that the private royal library in Obrik held ten thousand books, but here was a treasure its equal. I tiptoed into the room, worried that my mere presence would somehow damage the irreplaceable tomes.
But once the awe wore off, I saw that this room, too, suffered from neglect. Some of the shelves were pristine—and I made note of which shelves the mage preferred—but most were dull with dust.
This, at least, was a problem I could solve, and I didn’t exactly have anything better to do while I waited for the mage’s mood to improve.
I was used to pitching in to help anywhere I could. Cleaning would be no hardship—assuming I could find supplies. And if I cleaned the library, then maybe the mage would be more likely to help me in return.
“I need cleaning supplies,” I murmured, unsure if the castle would understand. “A broom and mop and dusting cloths.”
Light glinted in the corner of my eye, and when I turned toward it, I found a small door, nearly hidden between two towering shelves. Inside the tiny closet I found a broom, and a mop, and dusting cloths.
I had not felt so much as a twitch of magic.
I grabbed the cloths and the broom, then climbed the spiraling iron staircase to the third floor. Dust settled downward, so I needed to start at the top. Thirty huge shelves lined the walls, ten on each long wall and five on the shorter sides. Each shelf was wider than my outstretched arms and taller than my arms stretched overhead.
“I’m going to need a ladder,” I muttered, eyeing the shelves.
I turned to go back down and search for one only to draw up short. A lovely wooden ladder rested directly in front of me. It was attached to a track above the bookcases and the bottom had wheels so it could be easily maneuvered into position.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
A sound like rustling pages sighed through the room, and any remaining doubts I’d had about the castle having magic of its own were promptly put to rest.
I worked slowly and methodically, taking one shelf of books down at a time. I carefully wiped the leather covers, then cleaned the shelf and put them back exactly how I’d found them. Most of the books were in languages I couldn’t read, so I had to trust that whoever had shelved them originally had put them in the correct order.
I was halfway down one of the long walls when a thundering voice startled me so badly that I jumped and dropped the book I was holding. I desperately lunged for it, forgetting I was three stories up on a rolling ladder.
My fingers closed around the spine, but my victory was short-lived as the ladder slid away from my feet. I flung myself away from the dangerous railing and landed on a stack of books with a pained grunt. Growling and cursing floated up from below, but my compressed lungs refused to cooperate, so I had more immediate problems.
Finally, I sucked in a desperate breath and pushed myself up. Two sets of furious silver eyes were staring at me from far too close. I scuttled backward. The ladder prevented my retreat, and I turned to glare at it. Traitor.
“Are you hurt?” the man demanded.
My pride had taken a beating, and my stomach would probably be sore where I’d landed on the books, but it wasn’t anything permanent, so I stared at his boots and silently shook my head.
“What were you thinking, woman?”
I climbed to my feet, moving gingerly. I had to look up to meet his eyes, which was a shock. I hadn’t noticed it earlier because I’d been too focused on his appearance, but I was used to being the tallest person in the room, and the mage was at least a hand taller than me.
“My name is Riela,” I offered. “And I don’t think any of the books were damaged, but if they are, I will repair them.” That, at least, was a skill I possessed. It hadn’t been particularly useful in my village, but new books were expensive, so my father had bought damaged books, and I’d fixed them so I’d have something to read—and sell.
“What are you doing?” the mage demanded, sharply enunciating each word. It was the same demand that had sent me tumbling.
His brows drew together into a scowl. “Yes, I can see that,” he bit out. “Why are you cleaning?”
The angrier he got, the more I wanted to needle him. It wasn’t smart, but I’d never claimed to be wise. “Because it’s dusty, and the books deserve better.”
A wave of magic rose, like shimmery moonlight, and when it was gone, the library sparkled under the magical lights. Not a speck of dust remained, and the books I’d taken down were returned to their places on the shelves.
I gaped at him. “If you can do that, then why was it so dirty?”
“Because it is a waste of magic.”
He turned and left without another word, and after a moment, the wolf followed him out.