Sisters of String and Glass, Part 17

Chapter Six – continued

“Andalissa is dreadful at needlepoint, but one can’t go wrong with books, right? I hear there’s a shop here that sells books from the other world.”

Abigail nodded as they stopped so she could pick up a few lotions for Camille. “There is. My mother used to take me all the time. There’s been more travel back and forth lately, so I’m sure there must be an excellent selection.”

Adrian waited patiently while Abigail picked out some items for her sister. As soon as she was done, he quickly situated her hand back on his arm and proclaimed, in a somewhat quieter voice, “Lead the way.”

Abigail led them around dozens of people and several stalls before they reached the gallery along a somewhat quieter stretch of the markets. A fixture in the city for as long as Abigail could remember, the book shop came and went in popularity, but the proprietor, an elderly man who was only known as Henry, never seemed to mind. He kept the small shop stocked in books from both worlds and, on the slower days, was known for setting up a rocking chair outside his door and stroking the stray cats that could always smell bits of dried fish on him.

But she fretted. She hadn’t seen Henry or been to the store since before her mother passed. Even before that tragic day, she had been stopping in less and less as her mother had started preparing her for marriage. She was, of course, expected to marry someone of royal blood, so was groomed for a title as high as Duchess. But she hadn’t changed much in recent years, so she feared Henry would recognize her.

Several times already, Abigail had toyed with telling Adrian who she was, but she always lost her nerve. Starting conversations was not something she excelled at. Frankly, having a conversation wasn’t something she excelled at, either. She briefly closed her eyes as she wondered how, exactly, this was going to come back and haunt her.

“What’s that smell?” Adrian whispered close to her ear as they approached the open door to the book shop.

“Fish,” Abigail whispered back. “Master Henry loves to feed the alley cats.”

“Will the scent linger on the books?” Adrian asked, worry tinging his voice.

“Not at all. Once we enter, we’ll only smell the books. The fish stays out here.”

It was almost like stepping through a portal. At least, it was the closest Abigail had ever come to the portal, the one in Roderick Manor in the Spindle that led to a world from which most of the books here had come from. The markets had been noisy with chatter and haggling and sellers hawking their wares. But, once she set foot in the book shop, silence descended alongside the unmistakable musty scent of paper and books. Sounds seemed a little dampened, but the air was redolent with stories.

“Well, this is delightful,” Adrian said, pulling her back into her body.

She peeked up at him from the depths of her hood and saw him standing beside her with his hands on his hips. His hood was barely covering his own head, but the shop was empty. She could see a spark of delight in his dark eyes and the corners of his mouth curled into a smile.

“Master Henry collects a wide assortment of books,” Abigail said. “Surely you’ll be able to find something for your sister here.”

Adrian looked around. “Where is this Master Henry?”

“Ill, I’m afraid,” a young, barely masculine voice called out just as a boy some years younger than Abigail came around a tall shelf. His blond hair was in disarray and his dark eyes looked a little sleepy, as though their entrance had woken him. But he was neatly dressed in clean boots, dark trousers, a fitted white shirt, and a dark green vest with the image of a book embroidered over the heart. “I’m his nephew, filling in until he’s better. May I help you find something?”

Abigail couldn’t help but breathe a quiet breath of relief. She had no idea who this young man was, didn’t even know Master Henry had anything in the way of family. Her secret was still safe.

“I’m looking for a gift for my sister,” Adrian said. He nodded over to Abigail. “This young lady has offered to help me out, but we’ll be sure to call for you if we require your assistance.”

The boy nodded and quickly vanished back into the shop.

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