"Scriptor John?" she called shyly.
The Scriptor peered down at her over his ledger. A pair of gleaming lenses perched on the bridge of his nose, pinched on with a little golden clip. His hair had grown iron grey since the last time Gemma had seen him, and his hard black eyes were set in wrinkled sockets. But his smile was kindly, and his voice was the same as she remembered, a great rough rumble that seemed to shake the earth with its humor. Gemma had looked forward to that voice.
"Well, young citizen," he said. "I have not seen you for a long time. Who would have known when I penned your name into my census what beauty I was unleashing on the world."
Gemma looked away and shifted her feet as she felt a blush creep up her face.
"You ought not to say such things, Scriptor John," she admonished. "I am sixteen gone now, a farm woman." She displayed her hands for proof; they were tough and callused.
"Ah, so," said Scriptor John. "It must be a hard thing for a young woman to have her name in the match book for so long. I wonder if I should tell you, then, that I put a special note on your listing. I could have given you to Big William," he teased her. "And what then? Aren't you happy that old John is keeping an eye out for your good match?"
Gemma giggled in spite of herself, picturing hairy Big William. "You know Elspeth had the right of age! I am content to wait my turn. Also," she said, her voice turning serious, "I would not wish to leave my father."
"Ah, so," said Scriptor John. "Then how is my old friend Cohn?"
"He is well, for all he is aging. Only, tasks he used to do with one hand I must help him with now. I fear that when my match is made he will have to give up his croft and live in the village."
"Ah, so," said Scriptor John, more sadly. He bent down and drew a cloth-wrapped package out from among his papers. "Well, give him this from me, when you see him next."
Gemma took it and bowed her thanks, but Scriptor John waved it away. "No, no, it is less than I should do. Your father saved my life twice while on campaign!" He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "But, do not let anyone else see what is in that package. Servants of the Realm are not really supposed to have such stuff." He winked. "Well, we must not waste away the hours chattering. You have come for a travel pass?"
"Yes," said Gemma. "I am going to visit my uncle in Brucken. My father is sending some goods from the farm to his shop."
Scriptor John looked concerned. "There are bandits in the forest south of there, I have heard. I hope you will not be passing through them alone?"
"Oh no, a merchant who trades with my uncle will be coming through the village tomorrow. I have a letter that gives me permission to travel with him. But, I will need my own pass to go by the road guard." Gemma looked up at him happily, bouncing on her feet. "My father says they will have swords!"
Scriptor John chuckled. "Aha, aha! And what interest have you in such things? Can it be you have been spending too much time reading the Histories of the Realm when you should be minding your father's farming?"
"No. That is, I..." Realizing she was stumbling, Gemma fell silent and looked away.
"Well, well, do not think on it," said Scriptor John, smoothing his face back into seriousness. "Here is your pass."
He reached into the tub at his side and fished out one of the bullhide disks that lay soaking there. Beside his ledger there was a small slab of marble, chiseled and polished by the village stone cutter. It had taken him a year to pay for it, but the thirty years since that his fingers had been free from wood splinters had made it worthwhile. He placed the disk on the stone and drew forth the proper stamp from its resting place beside the other velvet-wrapped Seals of the Realm. He rolled it into his palm, a small tool of fine steel. He saw Gemma's eyes brighten as she watched it glitter in the sunlight. Carefully he placed it in the center of the damp leather, then, with a swift tap of his wooden mallet, drove it down. Quickly he bored a hole through the disk's edge with his awl, deftly looped it onto a rawhide thing, then leaned forward to hang it around Gemma's neck.
"There," he said with satisfaction. "As clear an impression as the road guard could like. You will not have any trouble while you are wearing my work. It is a long walk back to Cohn's croft. Will you be staying the night at the village hostel?"
"Yes," replied Gemma, "And this afternoon I must buy some things for the journey. I am doing so many new things. I wonder if I will be able to sleep tonight, away from my own bed."
"Well, tell the keeper I said to give you some of his special night draught," said Scriptor John. "He will know what I mean. And," he added, "you will like it!"
"Thank you very much," Gemma said. She bowed and turned to take her leave.