Lots - Part VI

The sun had not yet risen on the new day, and already he was watching from his perch in the Belfry. He never worried that another might come and disturb him, for few ever came to that staggering height. It remained his refuge, and solely his. From there, his eyes probed the twilight darkness, eyes blessed by animalhood to see better even in dark places.

The early morning rituals were few. He observed the changing of the guard at the gates, and watched as the sleep-worn men and women returned to their beds. He watched as a couple scouting parties left through the main gate, small but well-armed bands that would gather whatever news they could of the forest and those who dwelled there. And he could see several of the merchant wagons lumbering towards the gate, passing through and leaving Metamor for the long journey home.

But one of them did not take the Southern road. His eyes followed it until it was swallowed up by the folds of Earth to the North. He sighed but smiled. It would be back.

Turning, the figure glanced at the only other thing that stood upon the circular concourse around the for great brass bells. His smile widened.

The main hall of the Writer’s Guild was empty at that hour. Habakkuk stood alone, listening to the silence. It was not truly silent. He could hear the slow creaking of the boards and the snapping of the banners overhead in the wind outside. And there was always the soft thrumming of his own heartbeat to accompany him. That much he would always have, he knew.

The kangaroo ran his paws along the back of his chair, the centre chair in the U-shaped table. He’d held this chair for nearly a year now, ever since Charles had retired to join the Long Scouts. The rat was better off in their August company, as he was being truer to himself. He wished that his friend had seen that sooner, but stubbornness rather than clarity of thought had proven to be the stronger of the rat’s attributes.

He smiled lightly as he leaned over the table some more. The crack in the wood was still there from where Charles had struck it over a year ago. That had been the last boxing match the Writer’s Guild had hosted with Charles as it’s Headmaster. It seemed so long ago now. Habakkuk had challenged the rat to a fight, challenged and provoked every way he felt he could, until the rat’s own anger had gotten the better of him. The rumours about Matthias’s surprising strength had begun to circle after that day. A few more words in the right ears, and a month later his friend was sent off on a patrol by order of the Duke.

Habakkuk grimaced as his fingers traced that jagged crack. He could have had it fixed of course, but it just didn’t seem appropriate to do. It was good to remember certain moments. And if a physical scar was needed to keep it ever present, then so be it. Nor was the kangaroo the only one who remembered that day. As he’d listened to the other’s who would fight in the boxing match talk over the last few days, that incident more than any other was mentioned, the time that Charles would not fight.

With a sigh, Habakkuk turned away from the scar and crossed his arms. It was no good thinking about such things. He himself had many memories of those boxing matches. Being a kangaroo, he was quite gifted at the art, and had won most of the tournaments, as well as the last five. There were quite a few of his friends that assured him this would be the time they’d take him down. He could not help but smile at their bravado. Every face, every word, every laugh, all of it was imprinted on his mind. He’d need that for later, he knew.

Habakkuk looked back across the empty hall. In a few hours, some of the writers would be gathered to work on their manuscripts in the relative quiet of these halls. And by the evening, the rest would join them for their boxing match. And he, Habakkuk, still had quite a few manuscripts to edit. If he had any hope of finishing them, he needed to get started.

With one last look across the room, the kangaroo sighed, and hopped back through the doorway leading to his office. There was still time for memory making later.

Coe was nearly finished with his morning rounds when he at last came to Dame Bryonoth’s room. She had not woken him with any screaming this time, so he did not expect to find her any different from when he’d checked on her the night before. Duke Thomas had come by as he was closing up and spent a few hours looking in on her. He remembered hearing the latch closing as the horse lord left, but that was all the noise that he’d had to disturb his needed slumber.

So he was quite surprised by what he saw when he opened the door. Alberta had grown considerably during the night, and the fur that was growing over her body had thickened as well. It was a corse grey in colour, lightening some over her chest. Her face had continued to develop into equine proportions, her eyes enlarging and deepening on either side of her head. Her ears were longer than before, while her hair had shortened considerably. The furless end of her tail was dangling out of the rather tangled set of sheets that she lay under.

Coe approached slowly, lamp clutched tightly in one paw. He lifted one end of the sheet and saw a hoof jutting out from the end of an equine proportioned leg. The grey fur had spread across the leg as well, though no fetlock had formed yet. Nodding slowly to himself, Coe lowered the sheet, and straightened it out some. It wouldn’t be long now before she had finished changing, that was certain. Perhaps even by this evening, he mused to himself.

Once he was satisfied that the sheet was back in some order and that there was nothing else wrong with his patient, the raccoon healer closed the door and continued on his morning rounds. He would write and send the letters once he had finished.

Although she had been using Misha’s gem to contact his sister for many months now, it still felt as fresh and amazing to her as the first time the fox had introduced her to it. Now Jessica could feel a sullen warmth to the air brushing through her long wing feathers as the spell brought her into Elizabeth’s presence once again.

They normally met in the mornings. It was easier for Elizabeth, as the sun had been in the sky for three or more hours by the time that it finally showed itself over the last mountains of the Barrier Range at Metamor. The warmth that met her spoke of midday, as did the bright blue sky that hung beyond the open balcony in Elizabeth’s work room. Elizabeth herself was dressed in a blue saffron gown, with only a medallion of office about her neck to accentuate it.

“Good morning, Jessica,” Elizabeth said with a smile as she regarded the journeyman mage. “You look troubled.” Few could read the emotions that lay upon the face of a hawk. Elizabeth was one such who could, and it pleased Jessica greatly to know it.

“Yes, Mistress, there is something that is bothering me. I have been asked to tell you about something that has just started to happen to Dame Bryonoth. And we hope you might have some insight as to why it is happening.”

Elizabeth nodded slowly then, her warm, concerned smile fading into a meditative line. “Very well. In lieu of your lesson today we shall speak of this matter. Come, take your perch and I shall take my chair.” She gestured to the converted ottoman that was kept for Jessica’s use and the rather posh sitting chair that was across from it facing the hearth.

Jessica hopped onto the perch, and dug her talons in deep until she was steady. It was strange to think about now, but she couldn’t help but remember how much she had wished that she could just sit down for nearly a year after her change. Now, all she wished for was a good perch. It was remarkable how little her avian form needed to truly be comfortable.

Elizabeth glided almost as if she were insubstantial into her seat, the folds of her gown never creasing in undignified ways. “Now start at the beginning, and don’t leave anything out,” the mage said, her smile once more returned. A cup of tea appeared in her hands and she sipped as the hawk began her recitation.

There was nothing quite like waking to the sweet sound of bawling infants. Charles had thought that in the two weeks since his five children had all been born that he would eventually get used to their cacophonous clatter that often interrupted his night’s sleep. But no, each time it came as a surprise and a delight. A delight in that he had yet one more chance to see the five little rats that were his children, his progeny and heirs, and a surprise in that it never seemed to happen at the same time twice.

Charles was grateful to Sir Saulius for allowing him the first few days after Kimberly had given birth to his five bundles of joy free from his training. But when the knight rat had insisted he return to his duties as a squire, Charles felt he had to comply. Of course, a day spent training for the jousts left him exhausted and worn. With the little ratlings interrupting his sleep at odd hours, he found it more and more difficult to maintain his usual regimen. Saulius seemed to notice it as well, and did not ask nearly as much from him, but still, it was enough to leave the rat a withered husk at the end of each day.

So when the letter had come from Metamor urging Sir Saulius to return immediately, Charles had been relieved. Another few days to rest up and simply enjoy his new family was a welcome surcease. Of course, the knight had thought to leave instructions for him while he was gone. Wile nothing so strenuous as jousting all day long, the knight would surely notice if Charles failed to fulfill them.

And so yesterday Charles had occupied himself with as much of the list as he could manage. He’d run both his own armour but the extra set that Saulius had brought for himself through the sand to wipe off any rust. He’d then wiped them down and oiled them until every link was shining brightly in the lamplight. And then he’d gone to the stables at the Inn and curried both ponies, as well as cleaned out their horseshoes for an hour. After eating a quick lunch, he polished both saddles and tack, and then checked the stitching to make sure they were all strong. He found a weak strand in his own saddle and spent a good ten or so minutes repairing it. And then he took both ponies out for exercises.

By the time Charles was finished, he began to wonder if he was going to get any time to relax at all.

But thankfully, he’d finished nearly every item on the list, and so that morning, he rested at home on the couch, while Kimberly and Baerle attended to the children. Already in just two weeks they had grown considerably, but they were still small enough that both Kimberly and Baerle could hold one in each arm as they nursed. They would rotate them around as they only had four nipples for five baby rats. Charles was holding the fifth, the youngest, his Ladero.

They had only begun growing their fur in the last few days, but already the patterns were clear. Ladero was hooded, with white paws and tail, though brown along his back and face. His eyes were a rich brown, and Charles savoured every chance he had to look within them. They’d only opened a few days ago, much to their relief. Charles knew that rats did not open their eyes until about two weeks after they were born. What startled him was how closely his own children had followed that development.

Looking down at Ladero, Charles could not help but smile broadly as his son wrapped tiny fingers around one of his own, gripping it. He could even feel the slight prick of those wafer thin claws. The child was asleep, short whiskers twitching at some dream. Charles smiled broadly, running one finger along the tail that dangled over his arm as he cradled the babe. He could feel not only the flesh, but the energy that lurked within. Ah, his son!

“Well, I think Bernadette has had her fill,” Kimberly announced, shifting one of the girls from her left breast and holding her out. “Charles dear, could you come take her back to her crib. I’ll take Ladero.”

Charles nodded, rising up from his seat and holding out the babe to his wife. He took Bernadette, the older of the two girls into his arms instead. She yawned a bit, paws grasping at the air until she managed to find his fingers. Her tail curled about his arm for a moment before dropping back behind her. He smiled and nosed her once. “Hey there, Bernadette. You tired? Let me get you to your nice crib so you can sleep safe and sound!”

Baerle chuckled lightly as the two other boys suckled at her breasts. “I wonder how long it will be before they start speaking. Or walking.”

“Well Lady Avery said her boys were talking in only a few months. But it took almost a year before she convinced them to try walking.” Kimberly said, even as she coaxed Ladero to take her nipple. The little rat stirred in her arm, and then wrapped his muzzle around the nipple and began to suckle. Charles grinned to himself, and kept the words that came to his mind just then to himself.

“This place will be quite exciting in a few month’s time then,” Baerle said with a warm laugh. The opossum turned to look at Charles who hadn’t yet left. “Oh Charles, do you think you could pick up some supplies for us later? There’s a bunch of things we need for the babies.”

“Of course,” he replied. The general soreness he felt in his muscles had faded and for the first time since the children had been born, he felt full of energy. “Let me put Bernadette to sleep and I’ll get James and we can go take care of whatever you need.”

She smiled to him then and he could not help but smile back. “Thank you, Charles. You’re such a sweety.” Charles felt himself blushing suddenly, and he couldn’t quite tell why. He nodded to Baerle then, and headed up the circular stairs to the nursery. He could hear the giggling of women from below, but he was long used to paying that no mind.

The five cribs were all set in a line. Angus had carved their names out of wood, and so now they each had a personalised crib. Bernadette’s was the second from the left, and the blankets inside were a soft lavender. Charles slid the small rat down into sheets and gently pulled them up over her middle. They still needed a great deal of sleep, especially after they had just been fed. It wouldn’t be long before the other four joined their sister in slumber.

Satisfied that she was safely tucked in, Charles planted a soft kiss upon her tiny brow, and then returned downstairs. Baerle was holding both Erick and his first-born, Charles, out to him. “I think the boys are ready for sleep too. Can you put them in their cribs while I write out the list?”

Nodding, quite happy to tend to his children, Charles took his other two sons in his arms, cradling them carefully against his chest. Both of them looked ready to fall asleep right there, and that thought made him smile all the wider. He could not help but chitter to himself as he went right back up those wooden stairs and deposited two more of his babes into their cribs. He traced a finger across each of their muzzles and the very soft gentle fur before returning downstairs once again.

Baerle was quickly writing down what looked to be a sizable list. Charles blinked in surprise as he scanned it from behind her shoulder. He hadn’t realized that they were low on so many things! But, he reminded himself, they did use quite a lot with five babies. Even if they were rats too.

“That should do it,” Baerle announced and set the quill down. “You two should be able to handle all that, right?”

Charles took the list form her and nodded. Most of it he’d be able to pick up at the Blaylock’s store as it was. The rest... well, he could ask Lady Avery about a few of the odder herbs. And the pie was something he could inquire after with Mrs. Levins. That was obviously not for the children, but he was not about to begrudge his wife and her wetnurse some small indulgence. It was the last item on the list that caught his attention the most.

“A basin full of lake water?” he read aloud, looking at both his wife and Baerle in confusion.

“To wash the babies in of course,” Kimberly replied, her smile bright, even as she held little Baerle and Ladero in her arms. The younger of the two girls had stopped nursing and was just resting, her tan head rolled back into Kimberly’s shoulder.

“I see,” Charles said, wondering just how many trips from the lake it was going to take to fill the basin. “Well, if you two are going to be bathing the children, I was wondering if you didn’t mind if I stopped by to see how Garagin is doing. I haven’t seen him in a few days, and I like to say hi to my student from time to time. I gave him a few new techniques to practice, and I’d rather like to see how he’s doing with them.” But if Charles knew the ferret at all, than Garigan had already mastered them and was currently developing his own variations on them.

Kimberly continued to smile and nod, “Of course, dear. You can invite him over for dinner too if you like. I haven’t seen him in a while either.”

That made Charles smile. It always delighted him whenever any of the Glenners saw his children. It was inevitable that they’d compliment him on such fine looking babies. “I will be back before you know it, my love,” He bent over and kissed Kimberly between her soft ears, and she giggled lightly.

Charles smiled brightly to Baerle once as well before he nearly danced over to the armour tree where his chainmail was hanging. It was becoming a habit of his to slip the mail shirt on before he stepped outside, and that day was no different. He lifted it free from the wooden stand, the metallic rings rustling against each other as he slid it over his plain shirt. He now kept a good tunic hung up on a hook next to the door, and he pulled that on over the mail shirt. He nodded and grinned once more to the ladies and then stepped out the door.

James was outside chopping some wood for them. The donkey looked up and smiled as the rat emerged. “Good afternoon, Charles! Wearing your mail?”

“Call it a bad habit courtesy of Sir Saulius,” Charles replied with a slight grin. He held out the list to his friend and sometime servant. “We have a small list of things to purchase and retrieve. I think it’s their idea to keep us busy for a while.”

James was scanning the list and frowned a bit. “Basin of lake water?”

“They want to give my children baths if you can believe it,” Charles said in a tone that clearly indicated he thought it ridiculous. “I’d use the cistern water, but I know Kimberly would notice. She wants lake water, so lake water she shall get.”

“Do they mean the basin next to the cisterns?”

“I assume so. Not sure what other basin they might mean,” the rat replied, looking out across the Glen. The trees were full of colours that day. Leaves sprouted from nearly every branch, while the last of the flowers blossomed above. Red and violets filled the air, while lavender petals were scattered across the clearing. Several Glenners were out about their business, most of which included gathering from the woods or running errands for the few establishments that operated off the main clearing. In one corner of the field Angus was training several new recruits, though the group was only fifteen strong. Scattered groups of children were playing, though Charles was surprised to see that the Avery boys were not amongst them.

“So, what do we do first?” James asked as he swung the axe one more time, lodging it deep into the wooden stump he’d been using as a base.

“Mrs. Levins. We’ll tell her what pie we’d like and come back after everything else is done to pick it up.” Charles folded the list up in his paw and stuffed it in his breeches for safekeeping. “Then we’ll hit Blaylock’s for most of the rest of it.”

James nodded, his long ears flopping a bit at his sides. Charles smiled, patted his friend on the arm, and the two of them walked off through the clearing towards the tailor’s shop. It was on the other side of the Glen, though that was only a few minutes walk. There was definitely something to be said about the Glen, it never did take far to reach any place in it.

As they were ascending the slope towards the rear of the Glen, Charles spied a merchant wagon that had been set in the small clearing between the Blaylock’s store and the Inn. It was not uncommon for merchants from Metamor or elsewhere to come to the Glen and hawk their wares for a day or two. When they did they used the stone strip between the Blaylock’s and the Inn as a marketplace.

Charles narrowed his eyes as he saw the three figures that were standing there. Another Glenner was at the booth looking over whatever wares they had brought. But the man in the middle, there was something familiar about his face that gnawed at the rat. He blinked a few times, and then shook his head. He knew he’d seen that face before, he recognized the long nose and high cheekbones from somewhere, but he couldn’t quite say where. As he was clearly a merchant, he’d probably seen him in the marketplace at Metamor before. Shrugging to himself, he continued on his way to Mrs. Levins’s.

“Did you see that merchant arrive?” Charles asked his friend.

“About an hour or so ago,” James said with a nod. “Ralph said he was selling decks of cards.”

“Well,” Charles said with a chuckle, “either he’s a fool to be wasting his time at the Glen, or a genius for selling to a place which has no cards of any kind! I suppose Lars may buy some at least for the Brewery.”

“I suppose so.”

“Still,” Charles said thoughtfully, “I don’t remember ever seeing anybody coming to Metamor to sell just cards before. Strange. I swear I’ve seen that merchant somewhere before.”

“Maybe he’s sold other things before.”

The rat grimaced and shrugged. He supposed he could just ask if his curiosity got the better of him. For the moment he had a list to attend to. The small house of Mrs. Levins’s was situated against a hillock flanked by two large trees. The roof was thatch covered in woodland moss, while her walls were crisscrossed with ivy. Hanging above the door was a sign featuring a needle and thimble while sitting on the window sill was a freshly baked pie. Blueberry from the smell of it. Charles felt his whiskers and nose twitch at the scent, and he could not help but notice his own hunger.

The door was standing open, but Charles knocked still. “Mrs. Levins?”

“Oh, it’s the new father!” Erupted the bubbly voice from the kitchen beyond. “Coem in! Come in, young man!” Charles smiled as he entered, finding the hedgehog with a washcloth in one paw, and a smile upon her muzzle. “What can I do for you two?” she asked as he eyes spied the donkey coming in behind him.

“Well, Mrs. Levins, we were hoping you might back a pie for us,” Charles said, unable to hide his smile.

The hedgehog smiled and nodded, setting the cleaning cloth on the counter top. “Of course, dearie. What would you like? I’ve a fresh batch of blueberries in this morning.”

“I can smell,” he grinned at that and fished out his list. “Let me see, they want, ah yes, they want an apple pie actually.”

“Apples? I don’t have any just now, but I’m sure Frederick has some. Elyina!” She called out in a sing-song voice towards the door leading to Walter’s rooms.

A small girl of about seven came running out the door, a breathless look of excitement on her face. “Yes Mother Anna?” She then noted Charles and James standing there smiling and she bowed her head, trying to curtsy. “Pleased to meet you sirs.”

Annette Levins laughs warmly then and patted the young girl on the back gently with one paw. As always, she was careful not to let any of her spines anywhere near the girl. “Oh Elyina, this is just Charles and James. You’ve met them before. Now, Mother Anna has a job for you. Do you think you could run over to Mr. Blaylock’s and pick up four apples for me?”

Elyina nodded her head once more, still gripping the hem of her short dress. “Yes, Mother Anna!” The girl then turned to Charles and nodded her head once again, blue eyes bright and wide. “Mother Walter says to ask if your babies need any new clothes.”

Charles laughed warmly then and shook his head. “It’s not on my list for today. Thank your Mother Walter when you see her for me, would you?”

The girl beamed brightly and stood a little taller. “I will, Mr. Matthias!”

Mrs. Levins fished a few coins from her apron and held them out to the girl. “Now open your hand dearie. There we go,” she dropped the coins into her waiting hand and gave her a gentle pat on the back with her other paw. “Now run along and tell Mr. Blylock that if that isn’t enough for four apples he won’t be getting any of my pie for a week!”

The girl ran right between the rat and donkey’s legs without any more urging. James let out a startled bray as he jumped to one side, his short exclamation descending into laughter a moment later. “Will she come back with four apples?”

“Probably,” the portly hedgehog replied with a hearty laugh of her own. “She’s pretty dependable. Most of the time. Now, an apple pie is it? Are your little ones eating solid food already?”

Charles shook his head. “No, I think this is just Kimberly and Baerle indulging themselves.”

“They deserve it,” Annette said as she turned and pulled out one of her pie pans and set it on the counter next to the wash cloth. “I’ll have your pie ready in a few hours, so you two young men run along.”

“Of course, Mrs Levins. Thank you.”

“I’ll bring it over myself when I’m finished,” she continued, smiling merrily. “I want to see your little bundles of joy again.”

“Kimberly and Baerle will be delighted to see you, Mrs. Levins. Walter can come too if she would like.”

“I will tell her. Now scoot!” Mrs. Levins waved her paws at them like a farmer scattering hens.

Charles laughed as the both of them backed out the door. “We will see you this evening then!” he called back before the both of them took a few quick paces back up into the clearing.

“Well, that’s one down,” James said as he glanced ahead.

Charles still had the list in his paw, so he showed it to his friend once more. “Don’t worry. Most of this we can find at Blaylock’s store. We’ll get what we can there, you can carry it back while I track down Lady Avery. I think she’ll have some of these herbs they want. Then we can get the basin water together.”

James nodded and settled into a comfortable stride. “Will you need me to keep chopping?”

“Just finish that cord and you can call it a day.” Charles smiled once more to his friend, feeling in a terribly good mood. To their right was the Inn, smoke slowly curling up from the chimney, and beyond it the merchant and Blaylock’s store. Charles let his eyes fall once more upon the merchant, and that sense of familiarity overwhelmed him again. As they approached, he knew that he’d met this man before. In fact, all three of them looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place where.

It was the voice that finally made him realize that he had been thinking about the wrong time frame. Charles deliberately did not think about his life in the years before he came to Metamor Keep. Although there were many positive memories that he harboured, it was in the past and part of an old life that he no longer led by choice. But this merchant was somebody he knew from that old life, which made his presence in the Glen even more singularly remarkable than it already was.

“Good afternoon good sirs,” the merchant said, his accent not clearly distinguishable, although it was decidedly not local. “May I interest either of you in a way to pass your time more enjoyable. Soldiers such as yourself often have long days with little to do. Perhaps a deck of cards can bring you that pleasure that your empty hours are missing.”

Charles turned, not because he had any desire to purchase a deck of cards – he had far too much to do as it was in any given day – but because he needed to know who this man was, and why he remembered him. “You’ve come a long way to be selling cards here at the Glen, haven’t you stranger?”

The merchant looked rather surprised by this remark, but he seemed affable enough. “It is true, I have come a long way from home. But I am always seeking new places. It is easier to sell my wares that way.”

James was leaning over the counter glancing at the decks, but Charles kept his focus upon the merchant. There was something there, some faint memory. For some reason, he thought of Zagrosek, Jerome, and Ladero and their time together in the Sondeckis. “Have you ever been to the Southlands?”

The man ran a finger along his aquiline nose then, as if trying to summon back a memory. “Once, but that was many years ago. It was not safe in my homeland in those days Why? Have we met before?”

Charles chuckled lightly. “I think so. Although you would not have seen me as I am now.”

“Ah!” the merchant laughed then, and reached under the counter drawing out a mahogany case. “Of course. You must have come to Metamor since then. Tell me, do you recall where we met?”

Charles shook his head, and then, something that had been said brought out another memory. It was so sudden, but he knew it had to be true. He looked down at the mahogany case, saw the unicorn heraldry, and knew it for a certainty. “Yes. It was during the Sutt uprising in Pyralis.”

“Truly?” the merchant was still smiling, but he opened the case. Inside was an intricately designed deck of cards cushioned by velvet. The man slid the top card towards the rat, and the second card to the donkey. “Well, since you are an old friend, do take a look at this deck. It is not for sale, but I keep it with me always. It is my finest work, and I share it only with those worthy to see it.”

Charles shook his head. “What are you really doing here, du Tournemire?”

James looked confused at that, but reached down and picked up the card anyway. Charles could feel a rush of wind in his fur at that, as if it had sprung up from the very Earth. “The Six of Hearts,” James said, his voice filled with a strange sort of awe. “Take a look at your card, Charles.”

“I am here selling cards,” du Tournemire replied, his smile wide. “Things are peaceful in my land now, and I wanted one time to see this amazing place. It is easier to travel like this. I draw far less attention to myself.”

“Are you really selling cards?”

“Of course. What better pretense is there than one that is true?” du Tournemire almost seemed to laugh at this snippet of wit.

“Perhaps later we could share a drink and you can tell me how things fare in your land,” Charles suggested, even as he reached down to pick up the card. This was such a strange meeting. Here, the very man who had called the Sondeckis for help during the Sutt uprising so many years ago, was standing before him in the Glen pretending to be a merchant! Of all the odd twists of fate.

Charles picked up the card and looked at it.

Blinking, Charles looked around and saw that he was already inside Blaylock’s store. For some reason, he couldn’t quite remember coming in there. He turned to one side and found James next to him, also blinking a bit. “Ah, there you are,” he said, for wont of nothing better to say. “Do you have the list?”

James shook his head, pointing at one of Charles’s paws. “No, you have it right there.”

“Really?” Looking down, he saw that it was so. “How did that get there. Well, let’s see what we can buy.”

The merchant named du Tournemire waited a few seconds after the two had left his booth before scooping the cards back. He smiled at each in turn, first the figure of the donkey on the Six Of Hearts, and then the rat dressed in a black Sondecki robe brandishing a Sondeshike upon the Knight of Hearts.

“We have what we came for,” he announced. “We will wait a few hours more, and then return to Metamor.”

The two man standing at his side nodded their silent ascent.

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