The Librarian of Aethia
The small white creature hummed happily amidst the heaps of scrolls in the dimly lit room, sorting through them with a satisfied industry. Occasionally he'd pick one up and unroll it, then study it for a few long moments before binding it back up to set it away in a system of piles that only he understood.
Dim light flickered through the room, glowing from carefully shielded lanterns hanging about the wall, an especially large one sitting next to the strange white figure. It threw a glare upon solid stone walls bereft of any decoration, save the towering shelves that lined them. Shadows from the dusty wooden tables beneath them filtered over equally solid stone floors covered in plain reed mats. Everywhere, in the shelves, on the tables, and even on the floor, scrolls were piled—great thick ones of calfskin and small fragile ones of papyrus. The only exceptions lay on a small, out-of-the-way table just barely visible from the lanterns' light.
There, half-hidden in the gloom, lay a thick, leather-bound book, the only one in the kingdom of Atheia, where printing and bookbinding had yet to become popular. The librarian, who owned the book, hoped to use it as an example and start the trade here. So far, he had had little success.
From the far end of the library came the faint echo of a door being opened and shut. The librarian did not look up. "Are those the records, Mermie? Just set them on that table over there."
A very un-Mermie-like giggle broke the silence. "Sorry Fone Bone. I don't have any records."
"Thorn?" Fone Bone glanced up from his scroll as, with the rustling of silk, Queen Thorn Harvestar emerged from the darkness, an impish grin on her face. "Thorn!" He cried, throwing away the scroll and leaping off the seat. "How many times do I have to tell you to warn me before you show up like this! I could've cleaned up the library some for you, your majesty!"
"And how many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?" Kneeling, Thorn engulfed Fone Bone in a hug. "Face it, you've been trying to clean up this library for nearly a year now. It wouldn't matter if I gave you a month's warning, it'd still be a mess."
Fone Bone gave an embarrassed laugh as he pulled away. "It is awful cluttered in here, now that you mention it." He admitted, rubbing the back of his head. "But it shouldn't last much longer. I think I've made some real progress today! The rest will be easy once I get the cataloguing system all worked out."
The queen's grin widened. "You always say that."
"This time I mean it! I really think things are coming together. I… uh…" Fone glanced around the room. "Well… I guess there ARE an awful lot of records."
"There wouldn't be so many if you hadn't taught the high master how to write and asked him to copy out all the old tales." Thorn pointed out, standing and smoothing out her dress. "And commissioned Mermie to transcribe all the old engravings on this paper. You'd have more time to sort, too, if you didn't spend so long transcribing the other stories."
"Hey! C'mon Thorn, this stuff is important!" Fone protested. "This is history! This is literature! Lots of people in Boneville live for this kinda stuff!"
Smiling sadly, Thorn Harvestar replied, "And here in Atheia, you can barely get people to come in the door."
Fone Bone's shoulders slumped. "Yeah. I don't get it. I keep telling people about all the great stuff in here, and still nobody comes. It's weird. No one seems interested in reading these stories."
"That's because they can hear other people tell them," answered Thorn, moving over to the desk Fone Bone had just vacated. "We don't write stories down, Bone. We pass them on, from one generation to the next."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Bone sighed, glancing disconsolately around at his heaps of scrolls. Somewhat subdued, he pulled up a new chair and clambered up. "But… people forget, y'know? Like there's a bunch of stuff in here from your mom's…" he stopped and restarted guiltily, "…I mean, the old library. Tarsil burned a lot of them, of course, but there's still tons!"
Thorn's face had fallen slightly at the mention of her mother, but now she smiled again. "Tons more for you to catalogue, hm?" She asked, brushing off a nearby chair and sitting down.
"Yeah." Bone shrugged. "But it kinda has a system of its own already. I just need to adapt it into what I have." He brightened a little. "I'll bet I could have it done by now if I didn't have to do all this Veni-Yan training stuff."
Her face suddenly still, Thorn leaned forward to study Bone. "Do you want to… give it up?" Her voice was quiet, almost small.
Bone's own eyes went wide. "No!" He hopped off his chair and approached her. "No, of course not," continued he, taking her hand. "You know I… well, you know I would never give it up. I love… doing the… dreaming… thing." His face was red for some reason.
A glimmer of a smile crossed Thorn's face at his discomfiture. "I'll never forget the expression on the Headmaster's face when they found you had a dreaming eye."
"His expression? What about mine? I didn't even believe about dreaming eyes for some time after I met you, and then… well, after you started doing all the weird fairy princess stuff…" Bone shook his head. "I kinda figured dreaming eyes were like… well, dragons. And rat creatures. Just… part of this zany world. I didn't figure Bones could have them."
"Nor did the Headmaster, I suspect." Thorn drew back and regarded Bone fondly. "But you do. And a pretty strong one, by his account." She squeezed his hand lightly.
Bone blushed again. "Well… I guess I always did remember my dreams, even in Boneville. And the Red Dragon… did something to me in the valley, I don't know what. What with everything that happened, it must just have opened really really fast."
"I'm glad it did." Thorn nodded at him, still smiling.
There was a moment of silence.
"And what about Moby Dick?"
Bone's face fell further, if possible. "Nobody even WANTS to hear about that. A few come in and ask 'oh, is this the book Her Majesty is always talking about, how interesting,' and then they leave. No one even bothered showing up to that coffeehouse reading I suggested."
Thorn arched a delicate eyebrow. "What's coffee, anyway? I don't think you ever explained that."
"Well, it's this kind of bean that… oh, never mind. It's not really important, coffeehouse readings don't necessarily have to have coffee, just readings. I had some cider to hand around, but…" A forlorn shrug expressed Bone's feelings. "…I had to drink it all myself."
"Oh dear." Thorn smiled again. "You poor boy. All that cider and only you to drink it."
"You'd think more of the nobles would come in here," groused Bone. "Sheesh. Back where I come from, rulers are REQUIRED to read and write and all that."
"Not here." Thorn giggled. "The Lord Chancellor still can't spell his own name. And as for those princes…"
She cut herself off and swallowed. Bone looked up, his expression guarded. "More of them?"
Thorn relaxed slightly. "Yeah," she sighed. "The Lord Chancellor is dead set on getting me married, it seems. Pawa, for preference—it'd finally end that trade dispute that's been going on for ages." She rolled her eyes, a most un-queenlike activity.
"You're going to have to marry one of them eventually, Thorn." Turning away, Bone made himself suspiciously busy with the scrolls on his desk.
"I know." Thorn groaned, hiding her face in her hands. "Gran'ma Ben keeps reminding me about being 'the last of the Harvestars,' and how 'the people expect a legacy.'"
"Well… she's right."
"I know. I know." Thorn nodded, face still hidden by her hands. "I just don't… it's weird, thinking of myself as some kind of… I dunno, cow or something, that we're trying to match up with the best bull." She sighed. "Not exactly how I pictured royalty."
"How DID you picture it?"
With a little chuckle, Thorn sat up and studied the ceiling. "I didn't, mostly. I was a peasant girl, remember? Why would I have wasted time thinking about royalty?"
"I did." Bone glanced around. "And I still AM a peasant." For a moment he considered this. "Well… court official. Same difference. Anyway, I used to think about being a king all the time."
"You did?" Thorn looked at him incredulously.
"Well, not as much as Phoney, but yeah. Just as… part of a story, y'know? It happens all the time…" Fone Bone struck a pose. "Hapless beleaguered orphan rises above his humble origins to discover his true destiny on the battlefield (or in the courts of romance) and finally discovers that he is, in fact, the king's son." A sudden blink broke the spell. "Mind you, we knew our family tree back to Big Bone Johnson, so that wasn't ACTUALLY a possibility." He shrugged. "But it was still fun to think about. And Big Bone was about the closest thing Boneville HAD to a king."
Thorn smiled, but that was as much reaction as Fone Bone got. The Queen's thoughts seemed to be elsewhere. "Do you…" she asked, her voice hesitant, "…do you… miss Boneville?"
Fone Bone's face went slightly blank, and he fell silent. For a moment he stared at the ground. "At times." He admitted. "I miss Missus Crabtree and Funny Bone and the Bone Library and… all sorts of things." Sighing, he glanced up, staring past Thorn, past almost the walls of the library. "And, of course, my cousins."
Thorn laid a hand on his knee, making him look up. "Do you… want to go back?" She asked, her eyes searching his. "I'm sure the Red Dragon could…"
Laughing suddenly, Bone took Thorn's hand and rubbed it. "Naw." He answered, smiling up at her. "It's getting less all the time. After all, I have you, and Gran'ma Ben, and Mermie, and…" he gestured around at the room. "…all sorts of things here. Need to watch over my fairy princess."
Thorn laughed in her turn and stood, brushing dust off her fine silk dress. "Queen. Fairy Queen, Fone Bone."
"Ooooh…" Bone's eyes took on a slightly vacant expression. "I shoulda brought that book."
"Whatever." Thorn smiled as she moved away from the table. "See you tonight?"
Bone seemed to hesitate, then nodded. "Sure. Goodbye, your majesty."
"I told you not to call me that," laughed Thorn as she swung the door shut. She turned and came face-to-face with Gran'ma Ben and the Lord High Chancellor.
"THERE you are," huffed the Lord High Chancellor. "We've been looking for you for hours, your majesty!"
Thorn arched a regal eyebrow. "I've been gone fifteen minutes, Chancellor. You couldn't handle the kingdom without me for that long?"
"Please, your majesty!" The chancellor looked uncomfortable. "There are some… delicate matters that require your attention. Also the Dawa Chieftain's son has arrived to pay his respects."
"Joy." Thorn muttered. "Very well. I will receive him in the throne room."
"Aheh. Perhaps, if you would care to meet him in a more PRIVATE setting…"
"I said I'll meet him in the throne room." Thorn swept past the chancellor in a rustle of silk. "Like the others."
"Surely, your majesty, there can be no harm in a private interview?" A hint of irritation was showing on the chancellor's face. "After all, you speak regularly speak in private with the Lord High Librarian…"
"That's enough, you," snapped Gran'ma suddenly, fixing the man with a glare. "You're not to speak of what the queen should or should not do with her time."
Thorn had stopped, but now she turned, her face sweet and open. "Why, Chancellor, whatever can you be thinking?" She smiled at the man. "Comparing the Lord High Librarian with a prospective husband? Seriously?" A light giggle shook her shoulders. "Why, what should we do for offspring?"
"Er…. No, that is to say, yes, milady. Yes, you are right, your majesty," stuttered the Chancellor, red in the face. "Yes. You are quite correct. I did not mean to imply…"
"That is good to hear," nodded Thorn sweetly. "Now, if you will go on, Chancellor, perhaps you will be good enough to tell the Dawa chieftain I will receive him IN THE THRONE ROOM."
The chancellor nodded and stumbled off in a great hurry. As she turned to follow him, Gran'ma Ben fixed her granddaughter with an eye.
Thorn shifted uncomfortably and shrugged.
Momentarily, Gran'ma's gaze softened and she shook her head with a sigh before disappearing after the chancellor. Thorn was left to pace down the long dark hall alone.
As she walked down the hallway to the throne room, though, a smile glimmered across her lips. It was true, Bone would never be a fitting consort for a queen. In reality, she would probably never be able to be with him.
But she could still dream…
A/N: Hm, what to say. This is a VERY different fic from what I usually write, and it's mostly spawned by an intense lack in the fanwork surrounding Jeff Smith's great creation. Not to say there's NO fanfiction about the Bone series-there is. But none that I really enjoy reading or like thinking as an ACTUAL addition to the series. Hence, this fic. Didn't want to write a long story, just a short conversational piece.
Anyway. It was fun to write.
Credit for the cover goes to Aeolus06 on DevART