Chapter Six, The Library

 

The path stretched away up the hill to a high walled building, peppered with towers, nestled in the foot of the mountains. Three wide towers were visible from the front of the building – one either side of the gate and third larger tower off to the right. There were more towers behind that, they could tell, The windows started high up, Tag guessed the ground floor wouldn’t have any, it would be dark in there.

“Libraries aren’t just for books, they sometimes store other stuff.” Del said. “Sunlight can be bad for paintings and things like that.”

“So?” Tag couldn’t see what she was getting at. Her brain whirred at a mile a minute.

“That’s why there are no windows on the bottom story of the building.” she prompted.

“So?”

“If the Librarian’s as into security as that woman…”

“Jen.”

“As Jen says, well, where’s she going to be looking out from?”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s bound to be something protecting that place, I don’t fancy running into whatever that something might be. Where will she be looking out from?”

“Let her know we’re here, Jen said.”

“Exactly.”

“Tower?” Tag pointed to the looming tower that grew from the library building like some sort of monolithic pillar.

They ran across the grass, keeping off the path, shouting and waving up to the tower, trying to get the attention of the librarian.

 

They crashed, almost at the same time as each other, into the solid chests of the Church Street Gang.

“No one to save you now, little rats.” the man was still dripping wet.

The men were cold and angry and sore from being buffeted in the river. One of the men’s arms hung strangely in it’s socket.

Del bounced onto the ground and skidded across the mud. The skinny man she’d crashed into retrieved a sword from a loop on his belt. The fat one caught Tag’s shirt as he fell and lifted him off the ground.

“You have something that belongs to us, little rat.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You stole the book from us.” said the fat man, pulling a knife from his sleeve.

“Then call the police.” shouted Del. “Let them deal with it. Put him down.”

“I’m not putting this little sewer rat down, girl, not unless I can put him down at the vets.” he turned to his colleague. “Should we take the rat to the vet so they can put him down?”

“I reckon we could call an exterminator to do it, it’s not like he’s a pet, just a pest.” he grinned a yellow toothed grin. “Unless he gives us our book. Then perhaps we could just, you know, release him into the wild.”

“What about the girl?” menaced the skinny one. His sword touched Deli’s neck. She held her breath. She closed her eyes. She thought frantically.

“I won’t tell you anything.” Tag stuck to his story. “I won’t.”

“We don’t need you to say anything. We can just search your things.”

Del swallowed hard and opened her eyes. The skinny one stood over her with his sword at her throat. The fat one held Tag by the shirt front with a knife at the boy’s gut. The third one, the silent one, rummaged through the bags with his one good hand. She looked across the huge lawn. There was no sign of anyone coming to their rescue this time. She put her hands into her pockets, slowly, slowly. At last she breathed out, then in again and held it. She felt for her gloves, old and ugly but thick leather. She looked at Tag.  Tried to catch his eye. No luck. Silently she counted to three, winding herself up for action.

It came as such a shock when Del grabbed the sword by its sharp blade and shoved the man back so hard that he stumbled back and tripped. He was tall and reedy and toppled easily. She snatched the sword from his hands as he fell, hopped to her feet and dropped the handle of the weapon into her right hand.

“Put him down!” she shouted, her voice was all wobbly and she could hear her heart beating in her throat. “Or, or I’ll…” she stopped. She wasn’t going to stab the skinny man who lay sprawled on the grass. She knew it. The silent one sneered, his greasy hand grasping at Tag’s bag.

“You’ll what?” the fat one demanded, shoving Tag to the floor and stepping towards her.

Del swallowed again. “I…” she looked at Tag, lying there in the mud. She looked at his rucksack in the hands of the sneering faced, silent one. She looked at the cruel turn of the lips of the fat one. She looked at the skinny one at her feet and she realised he wasn’t scared. He was laughing at her.

He was laughing at her and she was the one with the sword. She leant a little, not hard, but a little, into the handle and the point pushed into his chest. “I don’t know what I’ll do.” she said, suddenly calm and angry. “Who knows what I’ll do.” she leaned a little harder and the skinny one stopped laughing.

“I think she means business!” he said. “I think she’s crazy.”

“Who knows?” she leant a little harder and she felt a little pop as the tip of the blade broke through the fabric of his shirt.

He cried out in pain and he looked to his friends.

“Who knows?” she said again.

“Give them their bags back, let them go, she’s going to kill me!” he shouted. Del smiled the small beginnings of a cruel smile.

Tag scrambled to his feet and snatched up their bags and the children ran towards the Library.

“You better hope she’s seen us!” Tag wheezed.

“Hope?” Del laughed. “If hope’s all we’ve got we might as well be dead!”

The two children hurtled along the grass. Mud flew up and pelted their legs and the cool early summer air caught in their lungs. At the Library the heavy dark doors swung nosily open. A tall, cloaked woman appeared with a rifle wedged to her shoulder.

“Hurry up.” she barked, gun trained firmly on the three men who stopped in their tracks.

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