|Conan coded shelflist cards and watched the other workers, the guards,
their numbers, their movements, the doors. "Accidentally" dropping his
pencil, he slipped the lock-pick from its secret pocket in his tunic. "In
case I need an ILL from a non-cooperating library," he explained to Colin,
freeing his ankle.
The candles burned to nubs in their iron holders, the overloaded book-trucks
creaked from desk to desk collecting the last card drawers of the day and
spreading a message, while, silently as a light pen, the lock-pick made
its way from workstation to workstation. When the doors were opened to
begin securing the shelflist for the night, it was time.
Conan stood, overturned his card drawer and threw it on the floor. On
this signal, laborers that a moment before looked half dead came to life,
rising up as one with cries of "Conan!" The room rumbled with the thunder
of falling card drawers and book-trucks overturned sideways to block aisles.
Shelf list cards filled the air like autumn leaves set free by a November
storm. Shouts and curses were punctuated by a sharp metallic patter as
the outnumbered and surprised guards gave way before the rain of chains
turned into weapons.
The liberated laborers poured up the stairs like a backed up sewer and
overflowed into the castle keep. Hunger took the lead and they quickly
found the kitchen. Servants scattered before the tide, their cries of alarm
drowned out by the clatter of utensils and breaking crockery as the Duke's
stores were devoured.
Not as easily distracted, Conan pocketed only a small loaf while more
carefully selecting a kitchen knife of fine carbon steel, about 12 inches
long, with good balance. He felt more completely dressed, as he stuck it
in his belt. He quickly assessed the room, knowing that it would not be
long before the Duke's guard recovered and reinforced itself.
"This way!" he cried, raising his knife above his head and pointing
it toward a rear door that his knowledge of castle architecture told him
should lead to the shortest route of escape. The mob swelled through kitchen
and courtyard scattering servants and livestock until finally it breached
the outermost gate of the castle.
Conan removed himself from this river of humanity to an eddy in the
outer courtyard. His feet wanted to flee but his mind held him back with
questions. Where was Meta? Last seen in pleasant conversation with the
Duke, she had not appeared in the underground work rooms. Was she safe?
Was she even still here? And with guards surely searching for him, could
he find her if she was?
"Look at this!" Colin the Careful ran up, panting and pointing with
a long loaf of bread. Along the wall, a caravan of wagons stood ready to
roll. The nearest was loaded with the mysterious engines by which the sorcerers
of circulation run their automated systems.
Colin's eyes gleamed and his hands grasped the bread like a club. "Shall
we smash them? Oh, I say, let's do!"
A company of guards appeared around the corner. With no time to think,
Conan dragged Colin out of the way behind the wagons. There two horses
were saddled, waiting for the riders who would escort the caravan.
In the town that night, the name of Conan the Librarian was on every
tongue. But Conan himself was not to be found there, though agents of the
Duke of Edoc-Rab would look long and hard for him.
© 1993, by Hadley V. Baxendale