Choose your path and desire your journey…

This is a sequel to ‘Don’t worry…’  Check it out before you get started here. It’s the continuing story of Laura and Sam. It’s something of a set up for a continuing series so it’s just a taster of what’s to come – get set for some adventures. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the book that Sam and Laura are reading… If anyone is artistic, I’d love to see some people’s ideas about these two.

‘I’ll engage myself to see he comes to no harm, and hand him over to that grinder of his in good trim. And in the meanwhile, I’m sure he’ll be thick and inkle-weavers with that librarian. If he were here…’

‘Stop a second,’ a voice interrupted the reading. Sam had been stretched out beside Laura on the tattered old cushions they’d set up as the best approximation of a bed a second hand bookshop offered. Her head was resting on her folded hands, eyes closed as Laura’s voice washed over them both, giving life to the words of a tattered paperback held dextrously in one hand while the other played with a lock of Sam’s red hair.  Now, Sam struggled up (with considerably less grace than she’d hoped and a small huff of exasperation) and with a lift of her brows and an outstretched hand, asked for the book. ‘I don’t remember a librarian.’

Sam’s eye skimmed the book unable to find where the story left off and Laura’s arm came round her shoulders to point to a place halfway down the left hand page. ‘…thick as inkle-weavers with that librarian… you’re right. Huh.’ She was just about to give the book back but she saw something, she’d swear she saw something, from the corner of her eye, something happening to the page. When she turned her full attention to it again and read on a little, she raised her eyebrows even higher. ‘Listen to this, Laura.’

‘It’s my turn to read, you know,’ Laura chided laconically, her head resting on Sam’s shoulder (such a convenient height) and blowing a strand of her rarely controllable fringe out of her eyes.

‘I know, I know but I’m not just skipping a turn… this time,’ Sam said with a smile, ‘Listen… ‘As if raised by the naming of his profession, the librarian rounded the corner, book clasped in his hand and his vague eyes focused on a middle-distance beyond the everyday corridor. “Mark,” ejaculated Damerel, “You there? You are to have a new charge.” “Sir,” relied Mark absent-mindedly before shifting his gaze from any of his interlocuters, “I’m here.” There was a pause before he shifted his eyes once again to Damerel, “Will you come to the library?” Without awaiting an answer, he turned and departed with the same indeterminate stride as he had arrived. Damerel looked after him with mingled exasperation and relief. “Come! Nidd should have saddled up for you by now!” he announced, addressing himself to Venetia.’

Sam stopped reading. She felt Laura shift beside her and the book was gone from between her hands. ‘It wasn’t there before,’ said Laura. A pause. ‘It’s too much of a coincidence…’

Mark had disappeared a month ago. As the shop’s stock had started to enter into its final stages and only a few boxfuls of books remained, he had taken to increasingly frantic speed reading. They’d barely seen him for days on end until they realised one day that they hadn’t seen him at all and for some time. Despite a search of the shop, into even the darkest and most unpromising spots in the somewhat dank storage cellar, they’d found no trace of him. They’d felt guilty for a while, wondering if like that unnamed predecessor (the first perhaps of the lost), he’d died and simply faded away: If he’d quite literally read himself to death. They didn’t really need food or sleep, it seemed, but the old rhythms of life hadn’t ceased in the shop and, who knows, perhaps even ghosts could die of starvation and sleep deprivation. Sam and Laura had stacked beanbags together in a corner upstairs and Mark had appropriated a rocker, which at one time had been suspended from the ceiling. When she’d simply been working in the shop rather than one of the lost who haunted its shelves, Sam had always presumed they never ate, certainly they couldn’t eat any of the food she’d ever brought in from outside. Her offered sausage rolls had passed right through Laura’s hands and she’d not repeated the experiment. Having joined the bookshop, though, she’d been let into one of its more hidden mysteries. It was Mark who’d shown her how they drew food from the book themselves. Any feast, any light repast, any strange delicacy, they’d been able to draw from the books. Sam had never really understood either the physical or magical mechanics of it but she wasn’t one to look the free feasts of all literature’s most famous gourmands in the face. She’d been most disappointed by the Famous Five picnics. She’d always hoped that maybe adventure had somehow transformed egg sandwiches into something daring that lived up to Blyton’s extravagant praise but they were the same soggy sadness they’d always been.

Gazing at the now unmoving print, the implications couldn’t help but dart clearly into Sam’s mind and placing a hand over Laura’s which lay in her lap, she answered, ‘No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Read on.’

And Laura read. They followed Damerel into the library and watched as Mark drew him away into the recesses of the room on a spurious book quest. But while he walked and talked Damerel’s eyes wandered to the note clasped loosely in his librarian’s hand, his mind far from the librarian’s words or any solace.

Mark's letter

Damerel may have understood nothing of the note but Laura and Sam had tensed in surprise. ‘It’s a way out,’ Laura breathed. ‘I haven’t trapped you here.’ Her grip on Sam’s hand grew almost painful and when Sam turned to her there were tears in her eyes.

‘What’s that about, now? No need for that,’ she said with some of her usual brunt Northern cheer. The position of Laura’s head on her shoulder was useful for nothing but headbutting her and so she pulled on her hand till with a swift movement Laura swung round and paused face to face with Sam, her legs one of either side of Sam’s waist. With a laugh and wet eyes, she leant down and kissed a surprised Sam with lazy urgency.

‘If I’d thought it would cheer you so much to find Mark, I’d have looked harder,’ said Sam with a twinkle in her eye.

‘Good old Mark to the rescue!’ laughed Laura before growing serious again, ‘I thought I was going to watch you die here. Or I thought I was going to see you fade away before my eyes and it was my fault.’

‘Nonsense. Come on. You begged me to leave remember? I thought you’d be sick of me by now.’

‘Hardly,’ she said with a gleam in her eyes.

‘Well,’ chuckled Sam, ‘well… he told us not to delay. Do you think it’ll work?’

‘Yes, are you ready to go? What’s holding us, I suppose. It’s annoying to leave a book half-finished…but he was rather obvious about that being a ‘bad idea’,’ she pronounced the last with a sepulchral tone and a wiggle of her eyebrows. ‘But let’s not leave anything to chance because if these books separate us, you know I’ll spend the rest of mine looking for you and how tedious when we could be having adventures together.’

Sam hummed a little Clannad under her breath.

‘Damn straight,’ announced Laura before bursting into very loud and off key song, ‘No matter where you are…’

Sam clapped a hand over her mouth with a laugh. ‘Oh God, anything but that. Come on then.’

Hands wound together and bodies as close as they could get (taking no chances), they picked up the book, each holding one side of the book. ‘Choose your path and desire your journey, hmmm. I wonder what that means exactly,’ Sam pondered.

‘Well, the path is the book, perhaps and the journey is how to get there?’

‘I hope that’s the whole riddle. I could wish he’d been a little less cryptic.’

‘Yes, but I bet he’s loving it.’

‘Never a truer word spoken.’

‘Ok, let’s read and hope and want and wish and what have you and see if that does it.’

They began to read together. ‘But only three people saw Venetia upon her return…’ their voices merged together and their hearts beat together and they desired to find a way into the story. The book had just been looking an invitation and swooped them up as easily as if they had never been plain flesh and bone at all.

‘Ouch,’ said Sam as she landed in a strange confused bundle which appeared on inspection to be two people rather knotted together, a situation made worse by the lengthy stuff dresses both were wearing. Having untied themselves, they looked around and found themselves in a garret room with two small pallet beds. Sam was still somewhat winded by their arrival but Laura had stood and appeared to have got her bearings. She reached down a hand to haul Sam to her feet,  the other dashing the fringe out of her eyes in what was to Sam a comfortingly familiar gesture in a suddenly unfamiliarly familiar world.

‘Do you remember?’ she asked.

‘Remember…’ said Sam thoughtfully.

‘Well,’ said Laura, ‘I remember who we are and I also remember we’re chamber maids in the Lanyon house.’

‘Lawks!,’ said Sam, before clapping a hand over her mouth. ‘What was that! My speech has gone Heyerian. I meant… ‘damn’!

‘Yes,’ said Laura smiling, ‘Lawks a damn, indeed. A whole household away from Mark. Let’s hope he has more free time because our next half day is a week away. And I think I hear the housekeeper calling…’

 

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