Cecily made her way over to me.
“Brangien, ye had the key to the locked room. Did ye take a book?”
“What would I do with a book?” I responded, my face like stone.
“But ye were the only one who…” Cecily stopped speaking. I outranked her, and she was untoward in her accusation, even if I was a foreigner in this court.
I raised my eyebrows, and Cecily, scoffing, walked away.
Cecily did not bring it up again, but now I knew I had to be more careful where I read in the forest. And I could not bring the book back.
Isolde and I hurried to the royal chamber. Behind a closed door, Isolde asked softly,
“What are ye going to do?”
“I will travel deeper into the forest. But when will it be safe for me to go?” I sighed deeply.
“I am meeting Tristan tonight. I will ask him if he could move the book to the hawthorne near the Adventurous Ford.”
“Thank ye, my lady.” My eyes watered in gratitude.
I made my way to the stone cottage to make remedies, and looking behind me, I saw Cecily tracking me at a distance. She was not alone–others, including the barons, seemed to hover more closely. Or was it my imagination? I hoped the barons did not approach the king about this book affair. I would have to feign surprise at such news from the king (if it came to it).
I pounded the dried ginger reserve with a mallet, then a pestle until it crushed into a powder. The effort mildly released my frustration about human smallness that could bottle up an expanse as wide as the knowledge in a book. What good did Cecily’s counting of the books do when we all could be reading them? And if one went missing, how should it matter to anyone who would count instead of read a book, as if it’s only purpose was to sit on a shelf as a vapid, shallow number, a dispossessed possession, and collect dust, despite the deft fingers that had put such effort and skill into its pages?
I waited for Isolde in the garden, pulling lanky weeds into a pile. As the stars began to pierce the sky, Isolde returned from her visit with Tristan and passed by me, nodding in my direction as if to say, it is done. Farther from the castle, I slipped into the forest with a candle and moved cautiously, setting my feet on soft, silent ground until I reached the hawthorne. The book was safely tucked in. But when I climbed up, I felt movement. The branches swirled around me, as if rearranging to make a more comfortable seat. I wanted to stay and read, but the candle’s light would not last long. I could not let myself fall asleep here. So I reluctantly descended.
My surroundings were unfamiliar. Perhaps I had just gotten disoriented? I held up my light in the direction of the ford, but it did not catch the subtle movement of water. Oh no. Had the hawthorne moved with me to a new location?