The bookshop was tucked away in a square off a busy thoroughfare. High tenements crowded the light out and but for a cobbler across the way, it would have been as quiet as a crypt. A slice of the city where the pandemonium didn’t reach. All the windows were closed and by a quirk of fate unused by most of the occupants, either being stairwells or storerooms. On the other side of the buildings was the temple plaza so the bulk of the living accommodation was geared to take in the vista. Rell didn’t care about that, he just thought that the silence was perfect for the perusal of books, the gentle tapping of the shoe mender's hammer could be imagined as that of a woodpecker and pushed to the back of his awareness.
Rell squinted at the boot dangling over the little cobbler’s workshop. He'd never seen a single customer coming nor going and yet the man and his wife were forever tapping away at things. Maybe they weren’t cobbling but doing something else, Rell mused, digging a hole in the floor of their shop, a stairway down to some forgotten treasure. Or they were sculptures working stone, creating a statue of some long-lost child, praying that if they get the nose just right then it will come to life and return to their embrace.
A smartly dressed man wearing a large furry hat apologised to Rell as he brushed past him. He had a brace of leather boots slung over his shoulder and another pair in his left hand. The cobbler's door made a tinkling sound as he entered. Maybe they are just what they seem to be Rell thought and then sighed at the dreary predictability of it all.
His hand strayed to the coin pouch safely tucked away inside his coat, eight crowns wouldn’t clear his debt, but it would make a dent, a dent that might appease Vern and stop him from breaking his legs. But then that would be the sensible thing to do, it was the obvious path to take. Rell felt an itch in the centre of his forehead, and he rubbed at it before snapping his fingers.
“The third eye!” Rell’s voice echoed around in the silence, and he shrunk back at the noise hoping no one heard his strange outburst.
He'd walked with purpose after he'd left Sabler intending to go directly to Vern and hand the money over but just as he'd forgotten his parting promise so had he forgotten his duty. His feet had moved of their own intent and led him to the bookshop. A place that existed in Rell's dreams and also held the key to one of them.
The little bell tinkled over his head before he even realised he'd taken a step towards the shop.
“You're back,” the bookseller said as she looked up from her work. She was fixing the binding on a book laid out on a bench. She lay a small knife down and looked Rell over, she must have liked what she found as a warm smile crossed her face. “As nice as it is to see you again I can't let you look at it. If you want to read more than the first couple of pages then you’d best buy it.”
Rell held his hand out revealing the purse nestled in the hollow of his palm.
“Oh, a change of fortune.” the bookseller stretched to retrieve the book. “I knew you'd find a way so I kept it away from my other customers.”
The bookseller was young, a little older than Rell perhaps. She was of average height and pretty, not that Rell ever noticed. He only had eyes for the books and the treasure held within their pages. It would have been of interest to him that she thought he had a certain way about him, but any romance was doomed by the location of their meeting. If she'd sold carrots or pots, then he may have noticed and asked her name and then the world would have travelled a different path. Instead, he simply pointed, mouthed the word ‘book’ and held out the purse. She paused before handing it to him, maybe he would smile or say something more but instead, he just held his hand out. She placed it there and took the money. It was slightly less than the book was worth but no one else had shown any interest in it.
“It’s part of a series that he wrote,” the bookseller said hoping to engage him in conversation. “A tale of a journey that he took through the mountains. I’ve only read the first one, but it was quite interesting.”
“I have the others,” Rell said as he opened the cover with reverence and ran a finger over the inscription on the first page. He'd read it several times, but the same tingle ran across his scalp. “Amar Sing ended the last book with a legend of the Jurati. What he didn't mention was that he'd just been given a spot in a diplomatic caravan from Talidar to the Karalon. They travelled in secret so as not to bring the attention of the eyrie. Can you imagine that, having to travel a thousand miles in secret lest you be burnt to ash by a vengeful dragon? The terror our ancestors caused."
The bookseller cast a nervous eye to the shelves but they were the only ones in the shop. "If what you say is true then maybe I shouldn't sell you this book. The council might pay more to have it locked away."
Rell's eyes widened and he clasped the book to his chest.
"I wouldn't do that!" The bookseller reached across the counter but Rell pulled back. "I was only teasing. I would never do such a thing."
"The Jurati are a great people. If only we'd chosen to study them, to become their friends then maybe our lives wouldn't be so grey." Rell stroked the book cover.
"I agree completely." The bookseller moved her tools around on the counter, making sure they lined up with the edge. "We could have learnt a lot from the elves, especially in the arts. I saw a sketch once of one of their palaces."
"Really?" Rell leaned over the counter. "Tell me everything."
The bookseller blushed and let a whisp of hair fall to cover her cheeks. "It was of a water dragon in a pool. Court nobles sat around the edge reading while some watched it swim. I would give anything to see it in person."
"You understand then." Rell smiled and slid the book into a pocket.
"I do." The bookseller glanced lovingly at the shelves. "They're my friends. I've refused to sell books before." She saw the look of panic on Rell's face. "Only to customers I don't like, or that I think might damage them."
“And that is why I will always come back to your shop. So much to read and so little time,” Rell said. The door opened with a tinkle as he stepped out into the cold.
“There’s always time!” the bookseller called out but it was too late, Rell was already striding across the courtyard. "I have more to offer."