Can't You Read The Signs?

The musty air hit the blond woman’s nose the second she set foot in the library, dragging a seven-year-old boy by the hand. Fiona Elberton rolled her eyes – she told that damnable librarian to open some windows, but he always went on about moisture being dangerous for the books. Finally, she reached what passed for a children’s section and plunked her son down in a chair. She knelt down to his eye level and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Garrick, Mommy has to go out for a few hours. You be good now, all right?”

Brown eyes widened. “B-but Mommy! The sign!”

Fiona furrowed her brow. “What sign?”

“The sign! The sign!” The young boy burst into tears, pointing towards the front of the library. “M-mister Tinivias said that kids whose mommies and daddies aren’t in the liberry with ‘em go away and never come back!” The blonde strode back to the front door and noticed two new signs affixed to the first set of shelves. One read, “Be quiet in the library or demons will devour your soul.” The other read, “Unattended children will be sold as slaves.”

Fiona’s body trembled with suppressed giggles until she could no longer contain them, emitting one long bark of a laugh. It cut through the air like a razor and the woman stood stiffly, not even daring to breathe. She knew the second sign was just a prank, but… that librarian didn’t seem quite right to her. This place had a rather extensive basement, off-limits to the public, and there was no telling what he might have been doing down there. “Now, sweetheart…” she whispered in her best indoor voice. “Mister Tinivias was just joking, okay?”

The boy sniffled. “Okay. I love you, Mommy.” He wrapped his small arms around her waist.

“I love you too. Now, be a good boy.” Fiona gave her son a quick squeeze and strode out the door. When the door clicked shut, Garrick reached for his favorite book, only…

The librarian was already holding it out to him.

“Hello, Garrick.” Blue eyes locked with brown, and try as he might, the young boy could not look away. He tried desperately to maintain control over his bladder and cursed the second glass of milk he had with lunch.

“H-h-hi.” Tiny fists clutched the armrests until their knuckles turned white and eyes frantically roved the walls in search of an exit.

Tinivias offered a soft smile and sat down on the floor; it was the only way the six-foot tall man could get below the boy’s eye level. “I’m not mad. Now calm down… take a deep breath.” Garrick inhaled as much air as his lungs could hold, then exhaled rapidly. “Feel better?” The child nodded weakly. “So, Garrick… did your mommy say when she’d be back?”

“Not exactly, sir.”

“Your mother’s raised you well, I see. Did she ask what you wanted for dinner?”

Garrick screwed up his face in concentration. “… Yes, sir. It was chicken… sir.”

The redhead smiled. “And did she want you to wait here so you didn’t have to walk home after dark?”

“Yes sir! Wow! You’re really good at this game!”

“Thank you. Now then…” A maniacal grin crept across Tinivias’ face and he gripped a moistened handkerchief in his left hand. “Would you like to play another game?”

“Garrick?” Fiona shouted, before remembering herself and lowering her voice to a harsh whisper. “Honey, where are you?”

“Can I help you?” The blonde’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest as the librarian practically materialized in front of her.

“I-I’m looking for my son, Garrick. He’s about this tall.” She extended a trembling hand at about waist level. “He’s got brow– ”

“I remember him,” Tinivias interrupted, blue eyes staring wistfully upward before locking with Fiona’s. “He warned you about the sign before you left, did he not?”

The blonde’s skin was on fire, but her insides were ice cold. “You- you - monster!” A loud slap followed and the tall man reeled, clutching his face. “I’m telling Elmo – he’ll have you dangling from the gallows this time tomorrow, you mark my words!” Fiona dashed out of the library, her footsteps and sobs resounding off the marble floor.

Two brunet men, one human and one dwarven, followed Mrs. Elberton as she dashed back towards the library, white knuckles tightly gripping her skirts.

“Now, ma’am,” the taller man gasped between breaths. “Are you sure that the librarian has kidnapped your son?”

“Of course I’m sure! He had a sign and everything!”

The human balked. “Sign?”

“Aye,” the shorter man chimed in. “Says tha’ unattended weefolk’ll be sold as slaves. Ah tol’ ‘im it was a bad idea, but tha bastige jus’ smiled an’ said everythin’d be fine. Fine? When Ah find ‘im, Ah’ll give ‘im a – ”

“Haunor! Enough!” Hazel eyes gazed at the heavens in thought. “Do you really think he would have done that – sold the boy into slavery?”

“Nae, Ah dun think ‘e’s got it in ‘im. This’s prolly jus’ a prank ta get back at tha mum.” Brown eyes glinted mischievously. “We’ll find out when we get thar, one way or annuther, eh Elmo?”

The ranger offered a solemn nod. “Hopefully, this situation can be resolved without violence.” The blonde skidded to a halt before the front doors and peered in horror at the two men behind her. Elmo let out a sigh. “Allow me, ma’am.” He nudged open the door and his boots clicked against the marble floor. “Tinivias? I know you’re in here!”

“Can I help you?” The librarian appeared out of nowhere, startling the two humans. Haunor, however, was fully aware of the young man’s mental talents. Tinivias grinned politely and touched a hand to his swollen cheek. “Hello again.”

“YOU BASTARD! WHERE IS HE?” Fiona looked ready to lunge until Haunor grabbed her arms.

“Now, lass. Let Elmo handle this, aye?”


“Now, Tinivias. Haunor and I have received a report that you…” Elmo could barely suppress his grin. “… sold Madame Elberton’s son into slavery. Is this true?”

“Of course it is,” Elmo’s jaw dropped and Haunor had to struggle to restrain the blonde. “After all, I put up the sign. Going back on my word would make me a dishonest man, and after all, isn’t that the real crime?”

The warden took a deep breath. “Where is the boy?”

Blue eyes twinkled as the redhead gazed raptly up at the ceiling. “Can’t say for sure. It’s been almost eight hours… he could be all the way in the Lortmils by now if they force marched him…”

“MONSTER!” Fiona choked out through a sob.

“No need to worry ma’am. It’s not quite slavery… more, indentured servitude… You might see him again in ten years or so.” Tinivias furrowed his brow. “Or was it a hundred years? My orcish is rather choppy and U’krosh doesn’t know a word of the common tongue.” The blonde collapsed to her knees. “I’m sure he’s fine… damaged goods aren’t worth as much at market.”

Haunor pursed his lips. “Lissen, lad. Either ya tell us tha truth, or I’mma let her go.” He cocked his head at Fiona who, despite her grief, was still struggling against the dwarf’s grip.

Blue eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t.”

Brown eyes steeled themselves in kind. “Try meh.”

Tinivias let out a heavy sigh. “Very well…” He concentrated for a few seconds, and then a door behind him creaked open. A small boy ran out of the closet straight into his mother’s arms.

“Mommy!” he shouted.

“Oh, Garrick! Thank Pelor you’re all right!” The blonde lifted her son of the ground. “Now I’m going to get you out of this horrible place.”

The brunet buried his face in his mother's chest. “Okay, mommy.”

“When we get home, would you like some pie?”

Garrick gasped. “But Mommy! I haven’t had dinner yet!”

“I can make an exception just this once,” Fiona replied, touching her index finger to her son's nose. The duo giggled as they walked out of the library and into the starry night. Meanwhile, Elmo turned on the smirking librarian.

“Just what do you think you were doing?” the ranger barked.

Tinivias smiled. “Teaching Garrick’s mother a lesson.”

“By kidnapping a child! You locked him in a closet for over eight hours! Your intentions don't negate the fact that you committed a crime!”

The redhead’s serene expression turned to a scowl. “Just what kind of man do you take me for? He was reading books in that chair all afternoon.” He thrust his index finger at the green armchair in the children’s section. “When it started getting dark, I gave him one of the torches and told him to go read in the closet. I said his mother would be really nice to him if he did. He went in there of his own free will.”

Haunor smiled and he clapped Elmo on the back. "See? Ah told ye t'was jus' an 'armless prank. Nothin' ta worry 'bout." The ranger stared back with burning hazel eyes and brushed the hand away.

"Perhaps… From now on, Haunor, you are on indefinite assignment to this library. It is clear that Tinivias cannot be trusted alone with children…" The brunet turned on his heel and stormed out. When the door slammed shut, Tinivias collapsed into a heap against a bookshelf and buried his face in his hands.

"What have I done?" he groaned through his fingers.

The dwarf sighed heavily and laid a hand on the librarian's shoulder. "Lookit meh, lad." When tear-filled blue eyes turned to face him, Hanour continued. "Ye may nae be a strangah ta Hommlet anymore, but… ye're still pretteh strange." Tinivias' face crumpled and he buried it in his knees. Muffled sobs echoed throughout the library and Haunor contemplated rescinding his "no hugging other men" policy. "Lissen, tha's jus' tha way ye are, but… ye gotta realize that tha normal folk are gonna lookitcha funneh. Now… l'il Garrick's prolly at 'ome blabbin' tha truth ta 'is mum."

"But why?" Tinivias choked out. "Why would he do that?"

Haunor harumphed. "Fairst off, 'e's seven - they really cannae 'elp it at tha' age. Second offall, 'e likes ye and prolly won' be able ta resist when 'is mum starts bad-mouthin' ye right an' left."

The redhead nodded weakly. "And Elmo? He thinks I'm some kind of… menace…"

"Nae. If 'e thought ye weren' good fer this job or fer Hommlet, ye'd be out on yer arse or rottin' inna jail cell. 'e's jus' mad 'cause ye lied ta 'im an' scared tha piss outta Missus Elberton. Mostly tha' fairst thin' though."

Tinivias glanced up, blue eyes still shimmering with tears. "Huh?"

"Ya see, Elmo considers 'imself a pretteh good judge of charactah. Tha fact ye were able ta completely snow 'im like tha' knocked him fer a loop, tha's fer sure. 'e'll prolly need a night ta mull it ovah, should be back 'bout 'round tha time ye open." Haunor offered another manly pat on the shoulder and rose to his feet. "Feel bettah, lad." Heavy boots echoed across the floor and the door quietly clicked shut, leaving the librarian alone in the dark.

Just an hour past sunrise, a knock sounded at the main library entrance. Tinivias rose unsteadily to his feet; his meditations the previous night had been fitful. Everyone thought he was a freak and that would never change, no matter how many times he relocated or how many different names he took. The redhead moved to open the door and instead crashed into it. To his surprise, a cheery Fiona stood before him, dragging a tired and pouty Garrick behind her.

"Hello, Tinivias. I know you're not open for another hour, but this just couldn't wait. May we come in?"

"Uh… of course. Please." The librarian took a deep breath and turned to face the woman who only yesterday had wanted to kill him. "Wh-what can I do for you?"

"Actually, it's what we can do for you." Fiona shoved the brunet forward. "Go ahead."

"I'm sorry…" Garrick mumbled.

The blonde nodded and then drew him back to her side. "See? Don't you feel better now?" Tinivias boggled at the duo. "Garrick told me all about your little plan. He bribed you to tell me he'd been sold to slavers and then he would just pop out of the closet completely unharmed." Her face turned bright red. "And for what? Some extra attention and some pie? Well you listen to me, mister. You're not getting any dessert for a week!"

"But Mom!"

"No buts!" Fiona smiled again at Tinivias. "I'm sorry I slapped you, but I was just so worried about my son." Tinivias could only nod weakly in response.

Suddenly, Garrick stepped forward, palm outstretched. "Excuse me, sir, but I'd like my money back." Blue eyes widened in shock, then darted from Fiona, who was staring at him with a tight-lipped expression, to the grifting child. Tinivias let out a resigned sigh and reached into his coin purse for a few silver coins.

"Well played, boy," he whispered as he pressed them into the child's palm.

"I'll buy you a slice of pie." Garrick pressed a finger to his lips and put his other hand inside his mother's. Together, the two wandered out the front doors. Tinivias leaned against the bookshelf.

"What in the hells was that?" Tinivias snapped his fingers. "The books!" The redhead stalked to the closet and opened the door, only…

Elmo was already holding the texts out to him.

Tinivias jumped back ever-so-slightly. "How did you get in there?"

The brunet dangled a ring of keys. "I need to be able to enter any building in the event of an emergency… I must say, that is a rather large and comfortable closet." The ranger turned his gaze to the books in his arms. "These are awfully thick… I doubt young Garrick could have read these on his own…" Hazel eyes narrowed in suspicion.

The librarian sighed heavily. "Check the bottom of the stack…" Elmo flipped over the pile and a small cartoon bear stared back at him. Several similar books rested behind it. "The boy has a pretty strong interest in theological texts, creation stories, that sort of thing, but he stumbles over the bigger words, so… I read them to him."

"You have the time to read to children?"

Tinivias flashed a nervous smile. "I make time… that boy's going to make some deity very happy one day."

"Probably Olidammara." Blue eyes stared back at him. "I heard what Garrick said; he conned you out of a day's pay, and yet… You like children rather a lot, don't you?"

The redhead took a deep, shaky breath. "They're very… non-judgmental." He stared off into the space behind the warden.

Elmo nodded. "Well, I think I'm finished with my investigation." He took a step towards the door.

"W-when should I expect Haunor?"

The brunet smiled. "Oh, he's been reassigned to a patrol route. You might see him later, but… not in any official capacity." Elmo winked, then sidled out of the library, the door shutting behind him with a quiet click. Tinivias let out a sigh of relief before wandering towards the back of the library, books under his arm.

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