Waiting for Anna: Part Five
The gates of Brightvale Castle are closed when Anna comes up to them. She looks for a door-knocker or a bell to ring to alert the castle of her presence. She forgets, for a moment, that she is a farmer's daughter with a bad foot who walks with a stick. Still full of the wild exuberance of the woods, the Aisha knows that she is equal to anyone. She does not find a knocker, and so she simply lifts her walking stick and knocks against the gates with that.
A square in the gate slides back, and the face of a green Nimmo is put against it. "Yes?" he asks, drawing the syllable out. He glances her over. "What do... you want?"
Anna has not planned this part out. "I'm from Meridell," she says. "The army is marching against it--there's a war on--my parents, my brother--"
"Brightvale has a strict policy of neutrality. We do not interfere with the affairs of... Meridell," the Nimmo hums. "Good day." The panel scrapes closed.
The Aisha stumbles forward. "But--wait--" She hammers again, and the panel is opened.
"Yes?" the Nimmo asks sharply.
"I'm not going to ask you to interfere," Anna lies. She does not let go of her hope that she can convince them to stop the war. After all, the two kings are brothers. King Hagan must have some idea of what is going on in Meridell, in King Skarl's territory; why wouldn't he interfere? She'll just need to convince him. But for now, getting food and rest is more important. "I walked from... from Meridell. Do you have any jobs you need done or anything? I'm good at working." The memory of the forest sings through her veins. She is excellent at working. She is the best. She can do anything.
He eyes her doubtfully. "The day to present one's wisdom to His Majesty is tomorrow," he says. "Then again, I doubt you have much wisdom," he mutters. "You may also ask him for his wisdom, if you so please."
Anna's anger jumps, but she pushes it down. "Well... Is there somewhere that I could find a place to stay, then?"
"Oh, I don't know." The Nimmo yawns. "But if I were you I'd ask at the bookstore. They're always needing new children to run around and shelve their books." He gives a little titter and closes the panel firmly.
The Aisha glares at the closed gate. Her hunger reawakened by the prospect of food, it gnaws inside of her.
She turns to face Brightvale proper, spread out across the slope of the hill, and sighs. The bookstore it is, then, she thinks, though she doesn't know what it looks like. Picking out the most likely-looking place, the Aisha grasps her walking stick firmly and stumps down the path toward it.
A bell over the door rings cheerfully when Anna pushes the door open. She steps in, closing the door behind her.
"Hello?" she asks quietly. The silence of the place folds itself over her, heavier than that of the wood, but less demanding.
A scratching noise breaks the silence, and then the sound of large, heavy objects hitting the floor. Anna's eyes widen and she steps forward, looking down rows of shelves until she finds the one where an Ixi struggles to gather a cascade of huge books off of the floor and into his arms.
"Do you need help?" she asks, as he heaves them up and adjusts the position of the top book by knocking the stack against a shelf, and by way of adjusting the books pushes his spectacles back up his nose.
"Nope," the Ixi grunts out as he patters toward her. She steps back and out of his way as he brings them to the front desk near the door. Dropping them, he sighs and massages his shoulders as he turns to her.
"Well, now! A visitor, I take it? Sightseer, no doubt, here to see the sights?"
"Well..." Anna starts, but the Ixi continues.
"I've got some nice travel books on Brightvale, ten percent off for you, of course, being an out-of-towner. Just in from Neopia Central, I imagine?"
Baffled, Anna shakes her head.
"Ah. Terror Mountain then? Mystery Island? The Lost Desert? Tyrannia?" At each shake of the Aisha's head, the bookseller grows more agitated.
"Where are you from, then?" he asks at last, frustrated. He leans on his desk. A pile of paper slips off, and he catches it neatly and stacks it back on the desk.
"I'm from Meridell," Anna says, blinking.
The Ixi slips and nearly falls. "From where?"
"Meridell," the Aisha repeats. "It's over that way--it's not far..."
"Yes, yes, I know where Meridell is," the Ixi says, "but all the newspapers I have gotten say that Meridell is currently at war."
"In which case, how did you get here?"
"I walked," Anna says. "If I have to repeat everything--"
"No, no, I was just thinking. Mm. It was my understanding that many farms were... razed?" He peers at her keenly over his spectacles.
"Something like that," the Aisha says uncomfortably. "I came--"
"No matter why you came. Thing is that you're here now. You need a job, someplace to stay, something to eat?"
The abrupt questions startle her, but Anna manages a nod. "I do," she says. "I want to ask King Hagan to help Meridell, but..."
"A fine goal, I'm sure, and a patriotic one, but it'll never happen," the Ixi comments. "We're a peace-loving kingdom, here. We don't need to get into your wars or your political struggles. The only reason we have weaponry shops is to build armor. But you can stay here, for the meantime."
"Oh--thank you!" Anna says, caught off guard by the sudden change in subject. "I... you wouldn't happen to have any food, would you?"
The Ixi grins. "Of course I do. More than enough, in fact. I suppose you'd like some?"
"Yes," the Aisha says, her eyes widening at the mere mention of it, "I would."
The Ixi tips his chair back. "What's your name?" he asks, frowning at her.
Scraping her plate for the last bits of food, the Aisha smiles. "Anna." Her walking stick is leaning against the table; they're sitting in the back room of the bookstore, which is a fully equipped kitchen, with a table and chairs for eating at.
"Anna. Anna..." He shakes her head. "No, won't do at all."
"What?" Her fork still in her mouth, Anna glances up at the Ixi. "What do you mean?"
"It's too plain. People will think you're unimaginative, or maybe poor. About the same thing, here," he adds with a grin.
The Aisha sets down her fork. "What do you recommend, then?" she asks, raising her eyebrows. "Seeing as how you've decided against my current one."
"Hmm." The Ixi thinks, his eyes half-lidded. Anna is sure that he's asleep when he speaks again. "Annabelle."
"Annabelle?" Anna asks, almost laughing. "That's much too..."
She trails off and shrugs, not sure what to add to the space in her sentence. "Too something." Too fancy, too long. It sounds like someone else's name, someone who sweeps around grandly and doesn't ever have to do anything.
"Too presumptive, perhaps? Or some fond memory still recalls you to the name of Anna?"
Thinking of her parents, thinking of Darren, the Aisha nods.
"It wouldn't be... right," she mutters. "To change my name."
The Ixi nods. "All right," he says. "Anna. Anna. Well, I suppose it's an all right name. Plain things can be beautiful."
Anna smiles. "That doesn't make sense."
"Perhaps it doesn't. Humor me, Anna. Now." He rises from the table. "Back to work for me. You may read, if you would like, but be sure to put all of the books back where they came from. If you don't remember, bring them to me and I can put them back."
The Aisha hesitates. "Can't I help you with something?" she asks.
He shakes his head, coming around the table past her. "I'm just cataloguing new inventory," he says. "Boring stuff. I wouldn't make myself do it, except that otherwise I'd run out of books. You go ahead and read. That's what a bookstore is for, right?"
The Ixi heads for his desk at the front of the store, leaving Anna alone with the dirty plates and the books.
Feeling uncomfortably like she ought to be doing something, Anna rises from her place at the table and collects the dishes. She rinses them off and stacks them in the sink, and then picks up her walking stick.
The Aisha hobbles out to the bookstore proper and scans the rows of shelves, all labeled neatly in what she can only guess is the Ixi's handwriting.
Anna drifts down the rows, reading titles, and pulls one out at random. In lavish golden script, the cover pronounces it to be a book of tales about Faeries.
The Aisha flips it open and reads through the table of contents. Smiling at the familiarity of some of the stories listed, Anna props her walking stick against the bookcases and settles down to read.
To be continued...