Darcy was breathing easier now; the shock of the time-jump had worn off. And as she followed Madame Lobellia and the ancient Roman in to the inner peristyle, the scent of rosemary hedges amidst burbling fountains dispersed what was left of her self-consciousness. What’s more, the servants were no longer staring at her. Maybe they were used to time-jumping guests. She jotted down this possibility. She’d have to research it later when she was back in her cramped office. Funny, the Library for Dragons was immense, but her office was the tiniest room in the whole place. She was sure of that. Pretty much sure. Maybe there was a broom closet somewhere posing competition.
Looking back up from her notes, she was struck by the sight of a Victorian woman in a full gown, walking beside an ancient Roman in a bright toga. She half smiled. There was contrast, sure, but there was something in the sway of their steps that matched perfectly. Another piece of Madam’s mysterious life was about to fall into place. These two were friends. Old friends. Better than friends? Oh, she hoped this would be juicy.
The three of them made their way through the courtyard and in to the triclinium, or Roman dining room. There, a set of bronze doors opened on to the outer peristyle running perpendicular to the house. Stretching out before them was a long pool, flanked by hedges, trees and colonnades. As they descended the porch steps in to the garden, Darcy didn’t know what vignette to commit to memory first. There were fish in the pool and garlands on the trees. There were bronze statues, lavish murals and intricate lattices. She was so distracted by all this she almost didn’t notice Madame and the Roman had found a shaded, semi-circle bench. She stopped and joined them. The Roman and Madame sat on the ends of the bench, facing each other. Darcy took the middle of the “U”.
The Roman cast a wary glance around the garden, then looked squarely at Madame. “You desire me to enlighten you on the secrets of D.A.R.K.,” he said. “Know that I am loath to do so. It is the single most feared dragon organization to ever have existed. Before we can have any conversation concerning it, I must have your word that you won’t use this information to endanger yourself and go lurking about its lair. I will not see your face on its Hunted list.” He raised a hand to emphasize his next words, “Well? Do you swear?”
Madame Lobellia, with back straight and hands folded, gave him a formidable, unblinking look.
The man dropped his hand to his knee. “What have you done?”
“There’s a particular dragon I’ve been,” she ran her gaze in an elegant arc, “guiding towards the knowledge of our existence. Nothing aggressive, mind you. But I believe my effort has been well placed. The dragon is perceptive.”
The Roman closed his eyes and inhaled. “Explain this ‘effort’ you speak of.”
Madame hesitated. “I encouraged him to borrow the book Miracles from the Humanities Hall.”
The Roman opened his eyes; in them laid gravity that could level a mountain. “Miracles? By C.S. Lewis?”
The Roman blustered in Latin, then in English, “What possessed you to lead a dragon toward such a dangerous book? All could be undone. If D.A.R.K. suspects any human interference,” he stopped mid-sentence because Madame gave him another nod that said they did suspect.
The Roman stood and walked toward the pool.
Darcy picked at a loose thread on her skirt, feeling as though she shouldn’t be in the middle of this argument. She decided to distract herself by watching the fish peck at the surface of the water. Funny, the morning sunshine reflecting off the pool made danger from dragons seem silly, but a glance in Madame’s direction told her otherwise. Fear. She could detect the slightest hint of it. Which meant there was something to be worried about. Madame never showed fear.
“I hope you haven’t started the only war we aren’t prepared to fight,” the Roman half turned his head.
Madame stood and walked over to him, her frilled skirt brushing mosaic tile. “Will we ever be prepared to fight it? We’re chasing a phantom, you realize. This ‘perfect army’, this ‘perfect moment’—they are ghosts. We’re a mismatched army no matter the century. And a moment, however perfect, is not enough time to win a war.” She paused, and when the Roman did not reply, she tilted her head so that he would look at her. “The dragon is perceptive, Titus.”
“D.A.R.K. kills perception,” he answered, “almost as readily as it does humans. You’re asking for more than a favor, Madame.”
The librarian sighed. “Perhaps I am. I beg your forgiveness. I shouldn’t have intruded. Darcy,” she turned, “let us return to the library at once.”
Darcy jumped up and started following Madame back up the garden path. Within moments, Titus called for them to wait. They stopped and turned around. Titus shook his head. “Why are Victorians so frustratingly immovable?”
Madame smiled. “Why are Romans so easily persuaded by Victorians?”
Photo Credit: By diosthenese – Flickr: D8C19191a, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20493180