Margaret steadied herself on the ladder. She held on with one hand as the other was pressed against her white blouse trying to calm her heart against the height she had climbed. She lifted the same hand to run a finger along the heavy tomes stored up here. Coats of Arms. Heraldry. Gwynn-Jones. Emblems. Black, Farrel, Howells, Rowlands, Ward.
Margaret looked down. At the foot the rolling library ladder was a knight, a toad, and a cat, looking up at her, expectantly. Of course, Margaret wasn’t sure it was a knight at all. It was a suit of armor certainly, that had appeared when she was closing up for the evening. It did not speak. She could not make out eyes in the slots of the knight’s helm, but she checked that the bottom edge of her skirt wasn’t riding up. Just to be sure. Margaret adjusted her winged glasses to try to get a look again at the design of the surcoat the knight was wearing. It showed some sort of red lion and a thistle, on a shield, over a fallen dragon, or the loch ness monster for all Margaret knew.
She removed a heavy oversized tome on Scottish Heraldry and juggled it down with her, until her feet were once again safe on the floor. She put it on an old long wooden table. The knight moved to the other side of the table. He held up a gauntlet pointing to his chest.
“Yes, I know.” Margaret snapped. “It might help if you talked. If you told me what you want. I’m trying to find out where you’re from. That might be a clue. Unless you have a clue for me?”
The knight shook its head. It held something in its right gauntlet which Margaret had not really looked at before now. It was a toad. The knight was holding a toad. A pudgy cat jumped up on a nearby chair and onto the wooden table. It marched across the table to the toad in the knight’s gauntlet. The knight was quick enough to hold the toad away before the cat could get it.
The cat gave up the prey and walked on Margaret’s now open book and sat himself on it. He started to clean himself, nonchalantly. Margaret grabbed the cat gently by the scruff and underneath the arms. “Yes, I remember you when he came in.” She said. She stopped for a moment noticing a collar around the cat. She inspected the tag. ‘Mr. Cuddles’.
Mr. Cuddles bit at her hand twice, holding the second time. They locked eyes. Mr. Cuddles had not broken her skin. He changed tactics and decided to lick her hand instead. Margaret rolled her eyes and removed him from the table, lowering him to the floor. He headbutted her ankles and did figure eights around them.
Margaret turned the pages of the tome with care. She looked up to see the knight shaking his head and tapping his chest. Only he wasn’t making any sound. She could see the gauntlet tapping the breast plate, but there wasn’t any sound. She closed the book.
“Look, this is a waste of time. All this information is available on computers out there in the main branch. We’re not even supposed to be in here. This area is closed to be renovated and restored when we can get the funding. Now, let me go out there and just put your… your symbols into the computer’s search engine and it will tell us who you are. Possibly.”
The knight stood his ground. He held the toad in one gauntlet, while pointing with other back and forth to the worn, dusty, shelves surrounding them. Mr. Cuddles had set himself down on the floor between them, licking his paws. Margaret folded her arms in a stand off.
The held their places until Mr. Cuddles got up and came over to Margaret and attacked her ankles.
“Alright!” she said, reaching down to push away Mr. Cuddles. “But you have to give me a clue.” She shouted at the knight.
The knight offered her the toad. After a moment she dug through her purse on the long table and found some tissues. She held up a hand covered in several tissues and the knight placed the toad on it. Mr. Cuddles cried for the toad, but she held it up from him. The knight bent and picked up Mr. Cuddles. Mr. Cuddles, despite his size, managed to turned about in midair, and run up the knight’s chain mail and arm guard, to perch on his shoulder plate.
The knight moved to the shelves, as if he and Mr. Cuddles often travelled this way.
The knight went to the far left of the three-storey room to begin his search of the book shelves. Mr. Cuddles wagged his tail to show he was unhappy with this choice. The knight moved along the shelves. The tail wagging got stronger. The knight did not tary, smoothly gliding further right. Finally, they came to a stop. Mr. Cuddles purred on the shoulder plate, brushing against the knight’s helm.
As Margaret approached, Mr. Cuddles pawed at the books on the shelf in front of the knight. Margaret looked.
“This is poetry. This is the poetry section. You want me to read to you?”
The knight tilted its helm as if aghast by the suggestion. Mr. Cuddles was thrown off balance and dropped to the floor. The knight gestured to the shelf.
Margaret began on the left of the shelf taking each book out and examining its title and author. This gave her no clues. She saw a book further down slightly pulled out from the rest. It had a tear on its spine. She looked down to see Mr. Cuddles chewing on one of his paws. A small thin patch of leather appeared to be stuck on one of his claws. She looked at the tear on book.
“Oh, you’re a terror, aren’t you.” She admonished. Mr. Cuddles stretched and ignored her.
Margaret looked at the knight who was nodding. She still held the toad in one tissued hand. She tried to leaf through the small book of poetry with the other. As awkward as it was, she got to the middle of the book to find a pressed flower inside. It may have lain there for centuries.
The knight reached over and took the withered petals. From these dry crumbled fragments, a fresh white flower bloomed in his gauntlet. He held it to his chest and then faded away. He was gone.
Mr. Cuddles broke the silence with a cry for food. Margaret held the toad closer to protect it. “So, he was pointing to his heart the whole time. I thought it was his shirt. His coat of arms. Well, he’s a knight, right?” She seemed to be talking to the toad. “How was I supposed to know that?”
She sat down at the long table with the toad. With her free hand she started rummaging through her purse. “Well, I don’t need a knight, anyway. And I don’t… I don’t think… I’m not going to need you, either. Sorry.” She pulled out more tissues. Nail clippers. A tiny travelling sewing kit. Glass cleaner and a little shammy. Two wrapped butterscotch hard candies. And finally, a slightly linty, wrapped chocolate kiss.
She unwrapped the chocolate kiss. “Here.” She offered the toad. The toad’s tongue shot out and pulled the kiss back into its mouth. After some swollen breathing, or some swollen swallowing motion, Margaret was unsure which, the toad disappeared and a doubletted prince appeared. The freckled faced youth looked about the room in confusion. He smiled shyly at Margaret.
“Yeah, I’m really, not looking for you, either. Sorry.”
Margaret led the young man to the front exit. She didn’t even question why he hadn’t disappeared as the knight had done. She left him on the stoop to go out and discover the new world while she returned to the oldest wing of the library to finish locking up.
When she got back, Mr. Cuddles was halfway into her purse, and scratching and burrowing his way deeper. “Mr. Cuddles!”
He stopped and stuck his head out above the purse. Margaret sat down and looked at him. “So, you’re the third one of this lonely trio. What are you looking for?”
Mr. Cuddles looked at her and sat back on his haunches, exposing his ample belly. He rolled onto his back completely and his eyes widened inviting her attention. She laughed, and started putting things back in her purse. She stopped when she reached the sewing kit. She unwound a length of thread from the kit and dangled it over Mr. Cuddles.
He batted at it, manically. Mr. Cuddles righted himself on his paws and chased the thread about. At times Margaret would dangle it above him, and at other times she would slowly draw it away from him across the table. He would crouch frequently into pounce mode before making his attempts to conquer the string.
As Margaret’s evening got even later, they played.