Vale nodded. A spark kindled in his eyes. ‘That seems logical,’ he said with more warmth than he had shown at any point previously. ‘Let us theorize that your Alberich—’
‘Hardly my Alberich,’ Irene snapped.
Vale snorted. ‘Alberich, then. Let us theorize that he expected to have completed his plans in a few days, at which point it would no longer matter if you contacted the Library. As he was still around earlier today, with our murder in mind, those plans can’t be completed yet. Especially as he was still trying to get us, or rather you, out of the way.’
‘That seems plausible,’ Kai said, emerging from his moody self-absorption. ‘But, if he doesn’t have the book, and we don’t have the book, and Bradamant doesn’t have the book, and Silver doesn’t have the book – and if the Iron Brotherhood is responsible for the alligators, so still on the offensive, then they don’t have the book . . .’ He shrugged. ‘Who does have the book?’
‘I dislike dismissing possible culprits without firm evidence,’ Vale murmured. ‘But I see little reason why the Iron Brotherhood would be interested in a book of fairy tales. They tend more towards technological paradigms. Now had it been one of the lost notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, that would be entirely different. Come to think of it . . .’ He levelled a stare at Irene. ‘Why would your Alberich want to steal a book of fairy tales? Out of spite?’
‘Maybe there’s something unusual about this particular copy of the book,’ Kai offered. ‘Possibly there’s something hidden in the binding, or a coded message . . .’
Irene shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. The reason I think the Library wants it is because it might contain something which other versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in other alternates don’t. That is, a new story, or several new stories. There would be no point in collecting it if it were just the same as the ones in other worlds. But if Alberich wants it? I don’t even know what Alberich wants.’ She became aware that she was starting to whine, and made herself concentrate. ‘It can’t be because there’s a significant connection between the book and this alternate. It’s not individual enough for that. There are too many other versions of Grimm out there. That sort of connection requires a very specific book with relevance to that alternate.’ Her hand twinged, and she rubbed it nervously, then tried to stop herself before she could make it any worse. Bradamant certainly wouldn’t approve of what she was about to say. And her mentor Coppelia would undoubtedly have forbidden her to voice her suspicions.
But Coppelia couldn’t have foreseen any of this. Could she?
‘Sometimes information about the Library gets out,’ she said slowly. ‘Not just in conversations like this. Librarians are observed, or they talk too much, or maybe the Fae are involved. It’s not exactly something that I’ve been tutored in.’ She paused to translate her thoughts into a theory that would also make sense to Vale. ‘And often when this does happen, this information ends up being recorded in works of – well, fiction.’
Kai blinked, eyelids flickering, without moving. ‘I’ve heard as much.’
And that confirmed his nature for her. Trainees did not get told about this. Ever. Only Librarians fully sealed to the Library got even the most basic of briefings about it. Irene herself was a full Librarian, albeit a junior one, and even she had only had a few hints about it. If Kai had ‘heard as much’, then it had been from other dragons, not from Librarians.
‘Indeed,’ she said, keeping her voice even. ‘And if there is some secret pertaining to the Library in this book, then that might explain why Alberich is so eager to get his hands on it. Silver, too. Some Fae know about the Library, and have an interest in it. If Silver believes that the book holds some secret – if only because other people are trying to get their hands on it – that would make it irresistible to someone like him.’
Kai frowned. ‘But if it’s such a big secret, why send – um, forgive me for this, Irene – but why send someone who’s just a journeyman Librarian after it? Why not send in an expert? Several experts?’
‘That could actually be construed as support for Miss Winters’s theory,’ Vale said thoughtfully. ‘In order not to attract Alberich’s attention, your superiors could have chosen to send someone who had no idea of the book’s importance. Someone who would not be seen as an obvious choice for important missions.’
Irene decided that this was not the time to have a hissy fit or make pointed comments about her status in the Library. Especially as Vale was right. ‘But unfortunately Alberich found out about it anyhow,’ Irene continued the hypothesis. ‘And, come to think of it, that would explain Bradamant. One of the senior Librarians might have thought I wouldn’t be up to the task, and decided to send her in.’ With an effort, she added, ‘She does have more experience than I do, after all.’
And then there was Kai. Apparently just an apprentice, but in fact a dragon. Well, probably a dragon. She needed to have a private talk with him. They simply hadn’t had a chance since the river incident. If Coppelia had known that, then assigning him to the mission was far more significant backup than it had originally seemed.
Vale nodded. ‘So if your associate Bradamant – another code name, I take it?’
Irene nodded. ‘We all have them.’ It was simpler than trying to explain the whole Librarianly choice of names to him.