The Alcove

Edmund ran his eyes carefully around the nearby walls, looking for some hole or crack that the rat could have vanished through, but there was nothing. Edmund scoured the wall around the tapestry, but there was nothing there either. He even tried tugging at the tapestry, but it was affixed somehow to the wall, and wouldn’t move.

He was about to return to his book and look for the rat later, when he happened to glance down and saw a small pink nose peeking out from between the tapestry and the floor. Curiously, Edmund flicked the tapestry with his hand, sending a ripple through the taught fabric. With a squeak, the nose vanished back beneath the thick red cloth, and the tapestry was smooth again.

So there was a hole behind the tapestry. Edmund nodded to himself, the mystery satisfactorily solved. Out of curiosity, he tried to see if he could lift the tapestry just a bit so he could see how big the hole was. He tugged at the bottom of the fabric, but it didn’t move enough–the cloth was being held tightly to the wall.

He moved to the edge of the tapestry and began to feel along the side, looking for some indication of what held the cloth in place. Dragging his fingertips down the smooth cloth, he felt small sharp points of cold that upon further inspection revealed themselves to be small brass nails that had been pushed into the mortar, straining to keep the woven fabric in place.

Odd. Why nail a tapestry to the wall it was hanging on?

Edmund fingered the nails, testing their strength and age. They didn’t feel very strong, and sure enough, after a bit of twisting and rocking back and forth, one of the nails popped free. Edmund set to work pulling out several of the other nails, enough so he could lift the tapestry and peek behind it at the wall.

At first, he could only see darkness, but Edmund was becoming a practiced hand at peeking into dark places, and he knew to be patient. After a moment his eyes began to adjust, and a small glint appeared in the darkness–the rat was looking back at him. Edmund slid closer to the wall, squeezing himself as close to the hole as he could, until he realized there was no hole. The tapestry had been pulled so tight by the nails that Edmund had simply assumed it was hanging on a flat stone wall, but there was no wall. It was just tapestry.

With the speed born of imminent discovery, Edmund began tearing out the other nails and setting them aside until a yard of fabric swung free from the wall. Pulling it aside like a tent flap, Edmund looked into the dark space behind the tapestry.

It was quite dark, but just enough gaslight filtered in through the flap that Edmund could see clear enough. The tapestry covered a stone alcove, slightly larger than the other ones in the library. There, facing the tapestry that had hidden it for who knew how long, sat a marble desk covered with a pile of old dusty books. Sitting at the desk, with the rat crouching on her head, was a woman.

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