Libraries, no matter how well they tried to maintain cleanliness, normally smelled like old books, especially in the sections where old books were kept. While most bibliophiles loved the smell of old books, when confronted with the reason, they lost some of the magic. It was the rotting of paper which produced the smell, not necessarily a pleasant thought.
Still, the smell wasn't exactly unpleasant, just better not to know all the facts.
Much of life was that way. A beautiful color could be achieved by deadly poison - so long as the process to create the dye was conducted in a well-ventilated courtyard, and proper care taken to cover nose and mouth. Even people could be the same way - beautiful to look at, but once one realized the magic involved to make them look such, the beauty was lost.
Now, if only certain princes could magically make their personality more attractive, the world would be a better place.
Why was Kiango in the area? What could he possibly want and or need out here? Nearly six months removed from the capital, and that .... Thing had come strolling back into her life as though he had every right to be there.
Maybe she should remind him who was the more powerful of the two? Just because he was the prince didn't mean he could easily stand up to her magic. Oh no, he knew full well just how weak his magic was against hers, and she had another six months of real-life training on her side.
The odds were most decidedly in her favor.
At the library, Mederei leaned against the wall waiting for the librarian to return with the information she had on the old maps below. Normally, the librarian had explained a dozen times, the maps were only seen by permission of the earl who was currently away. It wasn't that she couldn't help Mederei, only that the rules dictated a direct letter from the earl.
The librarian had taken one look at the Fire Shadow Guild mark, and decided that she couldn't be anyone of any importance. After all, only the lower sorts of people joined mage guilds. The better sort of magical humans joined the wizarding schools.
Of course the earl wouldn't listen to Mederei since he denied any connections with the Gwion. In fact, the earl considered it a point of pride to harass the Gwion. If it wasn't, Mederei was certain the earl lied.
The magazine she flipped through was one of those tabloid type magazines that Luna, Aysel and Gwen enjoyed reading. What was it about rich and famous people that made the common folk pay money for any information? After all, who cared about what anyone wore to the latest play? The fashion would change eventually. There were more important things to discuss like the rights of girls. Besides, Gwen knew most of the people from Caergwlân in the magazine so why did she read it anyway?
Mederei paused at a page and cocked her head. "Seriously," she muttered. "She hates those things." She pulled out the magic glass she kept in her bag. The photo of the headline talking about Ceinwen merc Cynwal Gwion's love of pistachios was sent to her sister for a laugh.
Below the comment about Ceinwen's favorite nut was a photo of their younger sister, Gwenllian during a recent trip to the theater. As always, Gwen dressed well. She was one of the top-rated fashion leaders in Caergwlân for the under twenty set. Everyone who wanted to be fashionable kept watch on what the third daughter of Cynwal Gwion wore. If she wore fuchsia to the theater one week, within ten days, fuchsia was the new in color. At the age of fifteen, she was just in the range for being considered a viable spouse, but their parents kept watch on Gwenllian.
"Wonder who he is?" Mederei took another photo of a boy with Gwen. Their brother, Tewdr was also in the photo, and the unknown male seemed to be good friends with the siblings.
"Ma'am?" The librarian joined her. She looked at the magazine and sneered. "Oh, I see you enjoy that sort of magazine. There are more upstairs in the Young Adult section. You might also find a book that explains how maps have changed."
Mederei shrugged and returned the magazine to the stand. "It was there. Where do I go?"
"It's upstairs and to the left. There is a large sign that says,'Young Adult' even you can't miss it."
"I meant about the maps downstairs, old girl."
The librarian only blinked once at the term, 'old girl'. It wasn't exactly rude for someone Gwen's age to call a girl, though seven years older than she, by the term, and in Gwen’s case, it was expected. It was quite impolite to refer to an older female, who was clearly married, by the same term. The only ones who remotely got away with it were the nobility. While Mederei wasn't nobility, she hob-nobbed with them.
"The director said the same thing I did. You need permission from the earl before you go down." Her smile was sweet like death. "Or someone higher than a earl."
Someone higher than an earl? That would, in logical steps be a prince or a king ... there was no way she would ask that ... Ah, there was someone she could depend upon. Turning her lips up, Mederei changed her camera to a phone. "One moment please."
"Medi!" The voice on the other end was bright with laughter. Even in the darkest days, Arewyn could be found with a smile in her voice. As her most recent sister-in-law, Arewyn retained some of the happiness of the newlywedded. "What is it?"
"I need some help. I need permission from the earl of Pichvelda to look at the items in the library here."
"Are you in Rukisismos? Brys said that Caradoc had to rush over to help you all. He was only mildly annoyed at the prospect of you two having fun without him."
"Let him know that I would have more fun if I could do my job, and he'll be pleased to know that my favorite person is here."
"Prince Kiango is there? I thought he headed north. How strange. Anyway, hand me over to the librarian."
Mederei did as commanded and watched, mesmerized, as the arrogant expression on the woman's face jumped to surprise then horror and lastly meekness. The librarian handed the phone back to Mederei as though fearful Mederei might harm her. "We can go down now," she informed her. Turning on her heel, the librarian clacked down the slate floor towards the stairs leading to the private chambers below.
The map room, one of the ten private chambers, was not the largest, but one of the largest.
"You may remain down here, but nothing can be copied or removed."
Mederei smiled and waited until the woman left before doing a happy dance. Family connections were the best. Gloating finished, Mederei began looking through the variety of maps present on the area. She chose three maps to look at first. The magic glass also acted as a magnifying glass when needed, and by recording the images below it, could access other information about said items to create a fuller image.
The first order was to locate Delmas Isle before the separation, but only one map had anything about it. Thankfully, the magically converted map allowed anyone to focus on the object even to the point of looking at it from a bird's perspective. In recent maps, the maps had a set location to show real time. The older maps, like the one before her, were limited to the time of creation.
The island had been once three times as large, and ships sailed from Delmas to Rukisismos. Even the city was twice as large as its current dimensions. Most of it was lost to the sea, but another third was added to the east of the current town. North of the Rukisismos was a protected National Forest complete with wild animals and hiking trails.
Setting her magic glass on the island, Mederei tapped some of the magic in the map to the glass to show the others later. They would be able to find the location of the hidden areas which had the oldest history.
The second map she found was from Alfny's mother's time period and focused not on the location, but on the wars which ultimately united Caergwlân under one throne. By the time of Alfny's death, the island was one nation, but for most of her life, Alfny lived on an island with a maximum of seven kingdoms. Rukisismos was added to the kingdom ten years before Alfny's birth, but the war began another ten years before.
Looking at the map, which like the first, had only a snippet of time, the isle of Delmas was first normal though by the end of the ten-year war, the island was its current situation. "Well, we've discovered the decade everything happened," Mederei murmured to herself, once again tapping the image into her glass.
A red light flashed at the bottom of the glass. Touching it, Mederei found a list of old articles about the situation. The headlines all told of the fall of the fae of Delmas, but none of them explained why or who, though several surmised a hidden unit of wizards from Caergwlân who had taken an initiative to go.
Two such units remained active in Caergwlân. The first unit, which was part of the High King's court, was the conmara, a group of wolves who acted as the assassins of the High King. While their actions were dubious, and some even questioned if they existed, stories remained, and many refused to do anything which might bring the conmara down upon them.
The other group, the Brotherhood, was formed near the beginning of Caergwlân’s history back in the days when the divide between the magical and non-magical was more defined. To Mederei's time, the Brotherhood insisted its purpose was to defend the weak and the helpless. Aligning themselves with the Uncreated One, they worked closely with the churches to protect the non-magical from the magical.
Unlike the conmara who worked only for the High King, the Brotherhood, now spread across the globe, worked for themselves, an action which left many uneasy. If anyone had sent a unit of wizards to fight the fae, it would have been the Brotherhood.
"Meaning we could be stepping in a nest of vipers without realizing it," Mederei said. She straightened and looked at the third map which marked all the holy places in the Western Region. Many of them were centered around Rukisismos, but others were scattered about the region. The markers indicated current and past locations, with nearly all of the ones around Rukisismos being ancient, disused shrines. Seven, at the time of the map, remained active with one being a recent addition symbolized by the lime green color. A second holy location, symbolized by a yellow-green was newer, but not as old as some of the other ones.
The five red dots, all ancient sites still in use, were the ones with the tapestries, indicating they were the oldest of the shrines in the area. On old Delmas, however, another three sites were discovered, all three a rich burgundy in color indicating their vast age; one of them was nearly black.
Mederei recorded the sites as well. She arched her back, and looked at the time. Six hours had passed while she perused the maps. Now, time realized, her stomach grumbled for its food.
"Thank you for your help," a voice echoed from the top of the stairs.
"So long as that girl downstairs hasn't ruined anything," the librarian sneered back. "Imagine a whit like her knowing the Lady Aerwyn."
"She knows the Lady Aerwyn?"
Mederei flicked her hand to roll up the maps and return them while her items scurried back into her bag.
"Ah, there you are," the librarian condescended. "Were you able to understand everything?"
"I know it must be terribly hard for you, Mederei," Kiango added his expression giving nothing away other than a cold sneer. He spoke in their common capital dialect. It was normal for them to fence in their native tongue not unlike professional soldiers who battle with a preferred weapon. It was an older tongue that few outside the city could follow. It marked the Capitals from everywhere else.
Between them, the librarian watched as they lunged and parried with words, sharper than the weapons they could also wield.
"For me? Why would reading be so difficult? I'm a word wizard, it's second nature. Unlike you, who failed your language exams ... three times," Mederei retorted, offering up three fingers and a smile.
"That only happened one year," Kiango retorted. "And you know full well why I fail ..." He straightened his sleeves. "Anyway, I am not here to trade spats with you." To the librarian, he continued in the common tongue, "Where are the maps, Madam Librarian?"
"Oh, aren't you a polite one, usually you're ordering the staff around," Mederei observed in the capital tongue.
"It helps to be polite to people, unlike you who had to resort to your sister-in-law's prestige,” Kiango retorted, with a glance in her direction. “We both know you couldn't use your real power."
"What power?" Mederei crossed her arms and feigned innocence. "I'm just a simple wizard."
Kiango strode over to the table Mederei had left. "As for you, I have very important work, and choose not to be disturbed," he announced in the common tongue so the librarian could understand.
"Of course, Your Majesty." The librarian took Mederei's hand. "It is time for you to leave so the prince can work in peace."
"The heavens know he can't work, so why does he have to be in peace?"
"Look here, girl, that is no way for someone of your class to speak to someone of his class."
The prince chuckled. "Give her what for, Madame Librarian. She harasses all sorts of people, probably bullied you into letting her down here through a fake conversation with the Lady Aerwyn, didn't she?"
"She did. I knew it of course," the librarian lied.
"Why you puffed up popinjay," Mederei started, wrenching her arm from the librarian. She stalked back to Kiango. "I'll have you know that she gladly helped me, since pricks like you are a complete waste of time and energy."
"Pricks like me? Surely your language skills have plummeted since you left," Kiango jeered. "Of course you can't do anything to me, can you? I can simply make comments, and you can't do a blessed piece of magic," he leaned forward on the last part, "I'm here to save the kingdom, old girl. Leave me to it."
"Ha." Mederei stalked to the stairs before issuing the last retort, "You can't save your own arse half the time, old boy, I doubt if you can save the kingdom anytime soon."
She mounted the stairs to the rapid-fire apologizing of the librarian and Kiango's laughter.
"Just what are you doing here?" A man demanded from the top stairs. "Mederei merc Cynwal Gwion?” The last part was spoken as a whisper between them though they were some distance away, so great was the man’s magical abilities.
Mederei paused a moment. Frieis Tryot was Kiango's tutor. Since Kiango had inherited only a scant amount of defensive magic from his mother, he was unable to pursue higher education at the universities which were all controlled by the wizards. However, his education, through a private tutor, would give him the equivalent knowledge, rewarding him with a baccalaureate from a wizarding university. It was one of the homages that only the royals could receive.
Frieis Tryot was a tall broad man who appeared to be better suited to the military than to academics. He was not a native of the capital region, but from the western part of the kingdom. He probably had grown up in the region of Rukisismos at some point in fact.
Unlike Kiango who was black, Frieis Tryot was only brown. Like many from the western part of the island, he was naturally quite light skinned. Many who wanted to be in important positions in the capital darkened their skin through being outside or magic. Nearly all of the powerful members of society were black like the royal family.
"For the sun, of course," Mederei answered at the top of the stairs. "Why else would anyone white as I am come here?"
Tryot narrowed his gaze, but allowed the answer to slide before descending the staircase.
That was a close call, no denying it. Still, no blood spilled and nothing damaged. Maybe she was getting better?
Outside the library, she met Ramses. Best not to inform anyone that she had met the prince and his tutor. But, where was Thuweni, the bodyguard for Kiango? He was usually somewhere nearby at all times.
"I was just coming to find you," Ramses explained. He looked over her shoulder to the library where a large group of females had gathered. "Hugh and Caradoc have gone to find food for us. Hungry?"
"Famished," Mederei admitted.
"Did something happen?"
"Nope, just boring map work." Mederei stretched her arms over her head to release the tension. "Luna and Mithrilanna are going to return any time soon. How was your investigations?"
"We found something at one of the shrines which we think is connected to the island. I was going to find you three, but you're the first one I've found. What did you find?"
"Some old maps after Aerwyn put in her two bits."
Ramses laughed at the story as they walked down the street.
At the restaurant, Hugh had managed to find a table without any nearby tourists - a rare feat everyone sorely underappreciated, save for the moments when they were reminded how rare the feat was, or when Hugh made much about his abilities.
"Not bad if I do say so myself," Hugh approved of his actions. "Well done, Hugh."
"You complimented yourself," Mederei observed.
"No one else does."
"Well done, Hugh," Ramses said.
"What he said," Caradoc spoke from behind a menu.
"You don't even know what we discuss," Hugh said pushing the menu down long enough to see Caradoc a moment.
Caradoc pushed the menu back up. "Hopefully the best food here. Does anyone know where their pheasant comes from? Is it wild or farm-raised?"
Mederei laughed. "Can we tell you've been living in the city to ask such questions."
Caradoc lowered the menu enough to see over the top. "These were great debates at home as well, I might add."
"Your brothers are strange."
"Your brothers are louder."
"One of these days I would like to see a Gwion meal," Ramses decided, speaking to Hugh.
"Wouldn't want too unless you have protective gear. Gentle dinner conversation have been known to escalate into food fights or worse." Hugh pointed towards Mederei's menu. "And that's only her family."
"I think he's making fun of us," Mederei whispered to Caradoc.
"Only your family. My family's the sane ones. Mother said so."
"Oh, and we all know how well Aunt Adsilistia is at keeping out of a squabble."
Caradoc coughed. "Point taken, though, in her defense, if her brother behaved closer to his age, Mother would have to do less."
"Would you be referring to my father or our uncle?"
A waiter arrived at their table to take their drink order, effectively protecting Caradoc from answering.
Ramses took the opportunity to change topics. "What is the information we have."
"Or don't have," Hugh grumbled beside Ramses. "It's as though we opened a can of worms only to find another can within it."
"An apt description," Caradoc agreed, gleefully as only the avid puzzler could do. "So long as there are no snakes, I am quite content to deal with the worms."
"Don't mention is too loudly," Mederei said, waving her hands before her cousin. "Otherwise, some snakes will appear, and we don't want any of that. Not that I'm too keen on the worms thing as is."