The Return of Conan the Librarian
Chapter 9
The footman showed them into a long room lined from floor to ceiling with dark bookcases. On the far wall a small fire blazed in a stone hearth. Before the fire was a table spread with bread, cheese and wine. At the end of the table in an ornately carved armchair sat the rotund figure of Duke Otto of Edoc-Rab. He smiled broadly, his small, dark eyes glittering. "Welcome," he said, "it is not often I can entertain visitors who share my interests in the arts and information sciences. My gamekeeper tells me you are from the vendors' marketplace in the village. What guild do you represent?" 

"We are not vendors," Meta answered, stepping forward. "We are itinerant information professionals." 

"Then you must be affiliated with one of the Temples of Knowledge?" 

"We are consultants," Conan cut her off before she could speak again, "from the other side of the forest." 

"Oh, excellent," the Duke grinned as he poured large goblets of wine for them. "I, myself, am an independent contractor to many of the Temples. You have seen my herd of zebra?" He took a large bite of cheese, stuffed some bread after it, and gestured to his guests to help themselves. Meta thanked him and made complementary comments about the wine, all the while avoiding Conan's eye. 

"We are seeking a vendor who left the market before we arrived," Meta said casually. Conan coughed sharply, but she continued. "Perhaps you know of him. He offers spells to communicate with the OCLC." 

"Ah, the OCLC." The Duke drained his goblet. "An oracle of powerful utility. And you seek to connect to it? You must be well versed in the technical arts." 

"I am," Meta said, glancing down modestly as she let the prism hanging from its cord around her neck catch the light of the fire. 

"And your companion?" asked the Duke, his eyes never leaving the prism. 

"He knows enough to practice on the public side," she said with a soft laugh. 

Conan's hand unconsciously reached for hilt of his now-absent knife. From the corner of his eye he saw the servant watching from the corner of the room shift his balance. 

"Perhaps we can help each other," the Duke smiled broadly at Meta and dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "I have an important project for the temple at Cambridge with which I am having just a minor technical difficulty. Would you do me the very great honor of taking a look at it? In return I will consult with my contacts and I am sure we can locate this vendor you seek." 

Conan rose with them. "We are, unfortunately, already overlong on our journey," he said through a stiff smile, he eyes on Meta. 

"But I am sure this one favor will not overly delay us," Meta smiled at the Duke. 

"Oh, I am so pleased," the Duke offered her his arm and she took it. "I am sure we will be able to help each other. Let me show you my technical processing area. Your companion can await us here. Be assured he will be well taken care of." 

They walked out without a look back. Conan, not used to being ignored, prepared to turn his anger at the servant who was now moving quickly up behind him. He did not see the guard step from the shadows of the shelves on his other side, nor--a second later--did he see anything else. 

© 1993, by Hadley V. Baxendale

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