Bookworm was looking over a few shelves in the downstairs library, trying to decide what to read next, when she heard a scratching at the front door, followed by repeated, familiar meowings. She hurried to the door and opened it, letting Beryl Strifeclaw bound inside. “Hello, Book,” he said.
Bookworm replied, “Hello,” as she led the way into the library.
“I have some news,” he continued. “I think someone should bother to tell the militia about the new release program.”
“Release program?” Bookworm asked, confused.
“Apparently, Rance Vartanian and Canergak were approached by–” He broke off a moment, thinking. “Poppleblot? Popplepot?” He shook his head impatiently. “The individual in charge of the blacking factory.”
“I’ve not met the gentleman,” Bookworm replied. She’d heard a little about someone building such a factory, but she’d not heard his name.
“Well, the factory wanted more workers, and they got them–the inmates. Not the permanent residents, but all the same…” He trailed off, and shrugged. “I figured someone should tell someone. I doubt they were going to mention it.”
Bookworm frowned. “I take it they don’t give the inmates a choice?”
“Apparently not,” Beryl replied.
“And payment is given to… whom?”
“To them. Canergak refused any percentage.” Bookworm raised her eyebrows in surprise at that information. “But I expect they won’t make much,” Beryl continued. “Any more than any other worker. Apparently, it’s to give them a job when they get out. Or a way to keep an eye on them. But if any of them get away, at least you’ll know how.”
Bookworm nodded, but before she could say anything, Beryl plowed ahead. “Speaking of people who got away–Wilson.” The name didn’t immediately ring a bell with her, so he continued, “The man you arrested at the asylum.”
“Oh, yes.” Once his nose had healed some, the last of Cortman’s men had been sent north to work off his debt to society.
“Tepic had a message for you about him, from Hoyt. When Cortman and Wilson went after him, Wilson held him and turned him forward–that’s when he got shot.”
Bookworm frowned darkly at that news, and mentally berated herself for not following up on that after seeing Hoyt’d ghost at the asylum after they’d trapped the raven Aessesser.
“Hoyt apparently thought it worth telling Tepic that. I have to infer that letting people know the truth was important to him resting in peace.” Beryl sighed. “There is one more thing I need to tell you. I was told that the ‘specimens’ Canergak went to get will be arriving by sea soon. And there’s a lot more than two.”
Bookworm nodded, wondering if she could think of any excuse to be on hand when they arrived… just in case. Beryl started for the door, but then paused. “Bookworm.”
“Yes?” She wondered at his tone, which seemed to indicate an important question to come.
“You said you thought I did deserve that medal. Why?” Beryl said and then added, “I do not.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Because I am not a hero,” he replied a bit impatiently. “I want to know why you think I apparently am.”
“What do you think a hero is?”
Beryl replied without hesitation, “A hero is someone who acts selflessly and throws themselves into danger to save others, with no thought for themselves and for no gain.”
Bookworm smiled a bit. “That’s… somewhat close. But too lofty.” Beryl tilted his head and watched her expectantly, as she went on with a pragmatism that might have surprised Mariah, had she been around to hear. “A hero does think of himself or herself. They don’t always act selflessly, but they *do* act. A hero is not without fear. But a hero acts despite the fear.”
Bookworm looked him carefully in the eye. “I know you’ve been afraid much of your life. But you haven’t let that stop you from acting when something needed to be done.” She paused. “No one really sets out to become a hero; *I* certainly didn’t have that goal in mind. It just… happened.”
“So that is why you think the way you do.” Beryl went to the front door, and waited as Bookworm opened it. As he stepped outside, he said, “You asked me what I thought a hero was. You should have asked why I couldn’t be a hero.”
“And why can’t you?”
He looked at her, then turned away. “Maybe during our next chat.” With that, he trotted away, as Bookworm stood on the front step, watching.