Story for the Day: Baleigh's Books - Part 1
I am absolutely fraught with misery. This morning I learned that my local bookstore is going out of business after thirty years of serving our small community. I grieved for some time, and then did the only thing I know how: I wrote a story about it.
It was early when the commander went down to the kitchen. Hardly anyone was awake to see the first of the season’s frosts, but she knew her father and the twins and anyone else belonging to the agrarian set should be up and walking amongst the rimed rows. She put the kettle on the range and sat at the table, content to admire the ascendance of a autumnian sun, while her mate and his father walked along the line of the wood in the near distance. The tranquility of the scene, the altering hues of aurora, the fritinancy of nature’s first wakefulness, the small sounds of the keep in the early hours marked out the day for being uncommonly lovely, and those who entered the kitchen after the commander had poured her tea and sat down again, Martje and Shayne, had given their ready approbation of the morning, when Pastaddams entered from the hall with a copy of the Frewyn Herald in his hand. He was looking rather pale, and he was brandishing the paper with all the fury of a mind very much distressed by what it said.
“I know we do not usually read this poorly written bilge,” said Pastaddams, hastening toward the table, “but look what is on the front page.”
He placed the paper onto the table and went to sit at the counter, whilst everyone looming over it and shared the general concern.
“Baleigh’s Books is going out of business,” said Pastaddams, before anyone could finish the page, “and after thirty years—I am an absolute wreck over it. That paper was dropped at my door twenty minutes ago, and I have been in a panic ever since.” He took the cup of tea Martje offered him, sipped and sighed. “How could they do it?” he lamented. “I had always thought they were going on so well—they must have been to be in business so long. Three generations that shop has been in Mr Baleigh’s family. I know him personally. Never had he given any hint of their being in trouble-- they cannot go out of business! I have been getting my Tales of Intrigues from them—and indeed getting all my books from them—for the last thirty years. It is impossible! It cannot happen. It is shameful and unpardonable that such an institution of this capital must go. And they will not be moving, as I thought they might be. Mr Baleigh says in the commentary that he is closing forever and sending all his stock away. This must not be. Something must be done.”
He gave a sharp exhale, and Martje said a tender “There, there, now,” as Boudicca took the paper from the table and applied herself to it.
“I remember when Alasdair and I stopped there during out first patrol upon returning to the capital, when we came back from the north,” said she, with a weak smile. “Has Alasdair seen this?“
“I can only imagine not,” Pastaddams replied. “I should have heard him shouting from the latrine, if he had read it during his usual time.”
Jaicobh and Sheamus came in through the larder door, talking of kale in the garden that needed harvesting now that first frost was come, but they quieted upon seeing the dismal looks of everyone in the kitchen.
“What is it, darlin’?” said Jaicobh, coming to stand beside her. The paper was offered him, and his shoulders slumped. “Bhi Borras, another one. Seems all ‘em old business are shuttin’ down these days. First Foleigh’s, then Rab’s paper mill, now thissun here. Shame of it,” shaking his head, “but what can you do?”
“How’s it happened?” said Shayne. “Some bastard baron from Marridon buyin’ out the place and gonna make one of ‘em new apartment schemes with it?”
“No,” said Boudicca, “some Marridon bastard already owns it and is going to sell it, probably to someone as you describe.”
“Ach, abhaile,” said Shayne, tossing his hat down on the table. “I know the Majesty’s got rules in place so no foreigners can buy up all the land and property and do what with it, but why they gotta take down the shop? Sure, sell the buildin’ if they’re wantin’, but leave the shop there. Don’t make no sense not to if they’re makin’ money.”
“I agree with you, Shayne, but landlords will do what they like, whether it be a good idea or no.”
Shayne grumbled something about Marridon businessmen would be in a hurry to ruin many things, but a few raised brows and heated looks silenced him. “Aye, I know,” he sighed, “we’re friends and neighbours and such. I’m just angry about it and needin’ somethin’ to say. Don’t mind me none,” and he sat beside Jaicobh, humphing into his teacup and glunching over the plate of bacon and eggs Martje had just put down, and was miserable.
Presently Alasdair entered the kitchen with Searle. They had been talking of having Blinne and Peigi help Harrigh with the coming harvest, as his eyesight was diminishing and the aches in his joins growing more painful with the cold weather coming on. They stood on the threshold for a moment, speaking quietly to one another, when Pastaddams’ despondent looks caught the king’s eye. Alasdair turned toward the table, and upon finding everyone looking rather sober, he said, “What’s happened? Someone tell me.”
Boudicca gave him the copy of the Herald, and as he read the front page, his usually affability dimmed, his aspect grew sullen and severe, and a disquieting air reigned over the room. He was silent, and went to sit at the counter with a vexed mind and a heavy heart.
“I cannot tell you how many times I went there over the course of my life,” said he, with desperate calmness. “They opened only a little after I was born. My grandfather would order all our books from that shoppe.” He glanced at the paper on the counter, staring at it without reading the words, and hung his head. “It feels as though a some part of my life is ending, and it is really. I was just there before we left for Bramlae. It seems impossible that it is going.” His chest heaved, and he exhaled and tried to smile. “Well, I’m glad we got to share that place with the children. I’m only sad that they won’t be able to share it with their children—oh, what am I talking about? This is abominable!” he cried, standing from his seat and tossing his hands about. “Absolutely horrendous! I cannot believe it—they are the only bookstore in the whole of the market district. What will be do for new books now? They had everything—everything!—and what they did not have they could always find. Vyrdin absolutely loved that place—oh, no…” A sudden horror prevailed, and Alasdair glanced frantically around the room. “Has Vyrdin seen this?” holding up the paper.
“I daresay he must know and is plotting an assassination with Teague as we speak,” said Boudicca.
Alasdair began pacing. “I hope Brigdan is with him to keep him from doing something he will regret—what am I saying? Vyrdin won’t regret saving a bookstore, especially if he has to kill a few people to do it, and Dobhin would certainly help him. I hope Brigdan and Gaumhin are with him. And Bryeison. No, Bryeison is probably with my father, keeping him from helping Vyrdin.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do, Alasdair? It seems too bad just to let it go like this.”
“I don’t know,” Alasdair shrugged. “If the building is privately owned by a foreign company, we might not be able to do anything. Why they’re closing makes little sense to me. Simply sell the building, leave the business there, and collect part of the revenue.”
“See?” Shayne cried. “The Majesty agrees with me.”
“It makes the best business sense for an overseas investor to allow a profitable business to continue. It is easy money. Does the article say whether the building was built by a Marridonian company?”
“Here, at the bottom.”
“Well, the kingdom cannot condemn it, even if he sells it only to have it sit vacant because it is technically not Frewyn property, since he bought all the necessary permits, and it’s not land, so the crown cannot seize it. If there were a crime committed there—no, I know what you’re thinking,” said Alasdair, turning instantly to Boudicca, “and I’m not going to allow Vyrdin to do it,” and in a quiet voice, he added, “…despite how much I might want him to right now.” He sat and stared at the front page of the paper, and after canting his head and humming in consideration, he asked, “How much is the owner expecting for the building?
“Five hundred thousand goldweight.”
“By the gods,” Alasdair exclaimed. “No one in Frewyn is going to pay that.”
“Sadly, I think that is rather the point, Alasdair,” said Boudicca. “They know no one will put forth that kind of money to save that building, and the new Marridon owners will turn it into whatever they like if they get no better offer. Would that there were some way we could all gather our money and buy the place ourselves. I know Pastaddams should give his left hand to save it. I have never made that much gold in the whole of my career, and I daresay that even with all of our assets, we should only collect a mere ten thousand.”
“The treasury has well over the asking price,” Alasdair mused.
“It might do, but the kingdom cannot buy it with tax collection if the building is not a Frewyn public property.”
“No, it cannot.”
There was a pause, the whole of the kitchen slumped into dismal haze, everyone speaking with look rather than word all the wretchedness they felt. Shayne gloomed over his breakfast, Jaicobh looked at his freshly poured coffee without any inclination to drink it, Martje made a few hems over the destiny of the bread she had just taken from the oven which no body had any ambition for, and Pastaddams lurched sepulcheringly over a slice of apple crumble that not even Alasdair had the desire to eat. It was all melancholy and desperation, and appetites lay dormant, plates sat empty, cups clinked in tintinabular gloom, and not even the sound of the children running about outside with Hathanta and Baronous could cheer them. It was an incurable despondence: the capital’s most beloved bookstore would close, and there was nothing anyone could do to save it--
“Except,” said Alasdair, his features suddenly brightening, “if the kingdom buys it and turns it into a public property.”
Ears perked and eyes rose in interest, and everyone looked expectantly at the king, who was walking back and forth, his steps dithering, his head bent in earnest deliberation.
“What kind of public property, Majesty?” asked Martje.
“If the kingdom turns it into a library, it might be done,” Alasdair continued. “We can have the bookstore remain where it is at the front, and there can be a lending library at the back, and no one need lose anything.”
“Really, sire?” said Pastaddams, the glimmer in his eye wavering.
“I’ll have to speak to Aldus and Ros about it, but if we claim it as an educational expense, and do it by not taking away money from any of the other educational programmes, I think we could manage it—well, we can try, at least.”
Pastaddams was instantly in raptures, and after receiving everyone’s warm approbation for the scheme, Alasdair went down to the treasury, whereupon he found Aldus at his desk, scribbling away at some long calculation, Ros taking down a few of the safe boxes in one corner, and Aghatha kneeling over the arras, brushing it through with a treatment of soapwort.
Alasdair stopped when he came to the threshold and walked around her. “Was my father here recently?”
Aldus glared at him from over his spectacles. “How did you guess, Your Majesty?” said he wryly.
“Was he here about the bookstore?”
“Tell meh yeh savin’ it, Majesteh,” said Aghatha, standing. “Ay can’t imagine goin’ teh town and not seein’ the place.”
Alasdair put a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll do what we can, Aghatha,” he assured her.
“Since you are come about the business with the shoppe, Your Majesty,” said Aldus, flicking through his papers, “I might as well tell you: the treasury can spare the sum of five hundred thousand goldweight, if we devoted the chief of the costs to public works.”
“Are you certain, Aldus? That is an inordinate amount of money for one building.”
“It is, but it is a necessity, and any extenuation might be made for such a venture.” Aldus glanced up from his work and removed his spectacles. “I have purchased every single one of Ros’ books there from the time she was six years old.” He pause, and a grave look passed across his face. “I will not allow such a commodity to be squelched by foreign investors. I do not care how much we charge them for building permits. I would put a tax on their heads if it meant they should keep away from Frewyn-run businesses.” He replaced his glasses and continued writing. “Ros, my dear, can you bring me down the education ledger? And the charitable donations, if you please.”
All the accounts that Aldus requested were conveyed to his desk, and after a few further calculations and a hour spent exchanging and maneuvering funds from one account to the other, the five hundred thousand goldweight entire was accounted for. The ledger for the sum was drawn up, the necessary withdrawals made, Rosamound had written out all the specifications, and when Aldus had read everything over, he turned the proposal toward the king and said, “If you would just sign here, Your Majesty, and place the Sovereign’s Seal in this corner, I will quietly contact the owner of the building and make the purchase.”
The ledger was signed and sealed, and within an hour, the landlord agreed to the kingdom’s terms. A steward from Farriage was sent, the document was signed, the purchase was made, and the deed was relinquished, and Aldus had all the pleasure of reneging building permits whilst Alasdair went to pay a visit to Baleigh’s Books.