Never Again a Man - Part XI

Rickkter accompanied Misha to the dungeons. When the raccoon had satisfied himself that he could learn no more from the stables themselves, they had decided to inform Thalberg that Misha’s sister would need to be summoned to assist them. But before they had been able to reach the Steward’s chambers, a page had intercepted them with a message from the patrolmaster. The young boy was flush and out of breath, having run all the way from the dungeons to deliver them that note as quickly as possible.

It had been from George, and the summons it contained were imperative. Something had happened with Bryonoth that they had to witness themselves. And so both fox and raccoon went straight down into the lower portions of the Keep, well beneath the level of the sun. They did not speculate openly on what the jackal could have discovered, but both their minds were afire with anxious curiosity.

George was waiting with crossed arms for them just outside of Roscoe the gaoler’s chamber. The cave scorpion himself was huddled back in the darkness, though the faint glow of the lantern at the jackal’s side limned the febrile grey surface Roscoe’s of hard carapace.

“Took you long enough,” George said, biting the words off. “Where were you?”

“At the stables,” Misha replied. “Rickkter has asked me to come examine some things he had found there. What is wrong?”

“Roscoe, you were there when it happened,” George said. “Tell them what you told me.”

The cave scorpion scuttled out from under the cover of his chamber’s darkness. The scent of something rotting drifted out through the doorway, though Misha did not hazard a guess as to what it was. “Misha, Rickkter,” Roscoe said in way of greeting. “I apologize for dragging you both down here. I hope you are both well.”

“Tolerably,” Misha replied. “I’m sorry we have given such a difficult prisoner into your care. What is it that she has done?”

“Difficult?” There was genuine surprise in his voice. “Why until a few hours ago, Bryonoth has been anything but difficult. All through the night she slept peacefully, and even when she rose this morning and one of the guards slid a tray of food under her door, she ate it without complaint.”

“So what has changed?” the raccoon asked, growing impatient.

“I had been making my rounds of the cells this morning as I always do,” Roscoe explained, the sound of his voice marred by the staccato clicking of his mandibles and the pincer claws he bore now as hands. “When I looked in on her, and after my eyes adjusted themselves to the brightness within, I could see her huddled in one corner nude. Sometime last night she had stripped all of her clothes off.”

“All of them?” Rickkter asked, irritation turning to surprise.

“Yes,” Roscoe replied, clicking his pincers for emphasis. “I thought it strange then, and I resolved I should discover the reason for this, but my instructions were very clear. I was told not to interfere with Bryonoth, and so thought it best that I inform George. But, before I could get very far, she began screaming. I hear screaming all the time in my dungeons, but not like this. Bryonoth was in agony, and when I turned to look again, I could she her writhing upon the ground, something tight wrapped around her face. Despite that, her screams did not sound muffled.

“I then called the guards and we entered the room. I had them restrain her, and they said that her flesh trembled and spasmed. She appeared to be suffering from a seizure. But it lasted only a minute, and then she lay still, whimpering and crying. When the guards removed the bundle of cloth tied about her face, it turns out she had taken all of her clothes off and fashioned them into some sort of mask, she stared at the daylight. I have seen the eyes of relief in many prisoners when they leave my dungeons. Hers were filled with that same relief.”

The cave scorpion stopped for a moment, shifting a bit back further into the comforting darkness of his chambers. Misha narrowed his gaze, the strange tale disturbing him. “What happened then?”

Roscoe bobbed his narrow head slightly. “She began to repeat over and over to herself, ‘He’s gone. He’s gone.’ The guards asked her a few questions, if she was all right, but she just continued to say that. I sent one of the guards to fetch some new clothing for her. It was not much, but it covered her body. I then had her chained to the wall lest she fall into another seizure again. Once her door was locked, I had a message sent to George.”

“And when I arrived,” George broke in, “I went to examine her myself. She’s not saying anything now, just crying as she sits against the wall. Didn’t even look up when I entered.”

“Here,” Roscoe said, snapping up a bit of bundled cloth in one pincer. “This is the mask she made for herself.” Misha bent down and took it, feeling the thick folds of cloth over in his paws. “Now if you will kindly excuse me, my eyes still ache from that bright light spell of yours, Rickkter. If you have need of me, I shall be here.”

“Thank you, Roscoe,” Misha said, nodding once to the gaoler. Roscoe did his best to nod back, but then slid the door to his chambers shut.

“Shall we then?” George asked, gesturing to the stairwell descending even further beneath the earth. Together, the three of them began to trek down the dimly illuminated stairs. George held the lantern in one paw before them, though there were flambeaux set along the walls in sconces every thirty paces or so.

When they reached the landing below, they were greeted by a long dank corridor, the stone work long stained black from tar and ash. Misha hated the dungeons, but it seemed that he was too often traversing unsavoury places beneath the Keep. The secrets it held beneath the Earth would likely never be completely uncovered. How far deep did it go, and what of the tunnels that Charles and others had discovered during the assault? One of these days, when the chance came to him, he would explore them himself. Perhaps bring a lodestone with him, to see if Charles had just been imagining things when the rat had said they’d changed direction in a corridor that did not turn.

“So have you been down to see her?” Rickkter asked after a few paces. Misha brought his mind back to the present and looked down at the thick bundle of cloth. Running his claws along it, he could feel where she had stitched the lacings from her jerkin and trousers through the cloth, binding them together tightly.

“Just briefly,” George replied. “She was awake, but she did not respond to me as I said. She’s gone into shock if you ask me. I’ve seen it before amongst soldiers after a battle. Misha, you used to be a siege engineer. Have any of your men ever been in shock?”

Misha looked up, one ear alert, and then nodded. “Aye. I’ve seen it. It is not a pretty sight. No siege ever is, but the shock. They may get better, but its still there in them. The pain and horror that is.”

“I know what you mean,” Rickkter said darkly. “I’ve seen a great deal of it myself.”

“And that is how Bryonoth appears.” the passage came to a wide oaken door braced with rusted metal where stood two guards. They nodded at the patrolmaster’s approach, gripped the iron ring at its centre, and pulled open the heavy door. Despite its weight, it did not groan on its hinges, but came smoothly and silently. The room beyond was more brightly lit, but still submerged in heavy shadow. The floor tilted inwards towards a submerged grate set in the middle. A rivulet of water trickled along the cracks in the masonry until it emptied into that grate, the faint dripping echoing up form some unfathomable distance below.

“Sergeant Dallar,” George called as he entered. Off to one side, a whisp of smoke trailed around the side of a passage. There, a soldier dressed in the Duke’s livery came around. Between hoof-like hands he clutched a long wooden pipe. His long horns curled about his ears, and his cloven hooves made a hard heavy clank when he moved. The ram nodded to George once, smiling both to Misha and Rickkter.

“She hasn’t made a sound since you left,” the ram reported, gesturing down the dark corridor from which he had emerged. “I looked in on her a few minutes ago. She’s still sitting against the wall.”

“Good. Continue to keep watch, Dallar.”

“Of course, sir,” the ram replied smartly, standing a bit taller, the pipe held firmly between his teeth.

The three of them passed the ram who continued to smoke his pipe with martial aplomb. The corridor beyond was well-lit for a dungeon, though gloom still pervaded the old masonry. Another guard stood beside the second door on the left, who nodded at George’s approach and brandished an iron key in his paw. The feline gave the key a sharp twist, and then pulled open the wide door. It creaked on its hinges ever so slightly, making Misha wince. But the brilliant light that suddenly poured forth from the aperture made him wince even more.

“I see my spell is still working,” Rickkter pointed out, even as he held one paw in front of his face. “Working very well in fact.”

Misha nodded, and held the bundle of cloth in front of his face for a few seconds. It did a much better job of blocking the light than merely his paws would have done. But after a few moments, his eyes adjusted, and he lowered the bundle again.

Stepping around the door, they could see that the cell beyond was bare except for a small pile of hay in one corner, a ball of glowing light near the centre of the ceiling, and a woman covered in a small robe chained to the wall. Her arms were held up above her, keeping her from tearing her new garments, hands dangling limply in the shackles. She did not look up as they came in, but merely remained where she was, legs pulled up beneath her as she huddled against the wall.

“Dame Bryonoth,” Misha called out. The head tilted slightly, but that was all the reaction the fox had from her.

“Let me look at her,” Rickkter said, stepping before her and kneeling down. He kept himself out of reach of her feet, his balance on his foot paws so precise that he never wavered. But Bryonoth made no move to object to the scrutiny. The robe covered her from her knees to her neck, though what protruded was dirty and saturated by the dank that filled the dungeons.

While the raccoon stared hard at her, Misha and George stepped back a pace. The light in the room was quite bright, much as it was in the stables now. But after the initial shock, it no longer hurt their eyes. Looking down at Bryonoth now, seemingly in shock, Misha was sure that he would feel nervous, some sense of premonition. But there was nothing. She seemed no more harmless to him than any other comatose soldier might. And that struck him as very odd.

Before he could ask if George felt the same way, he heard Rickkter suck in his breath in a long hiss. “What is it?” he asked the raccoon, who was backing up on his haunches, striped tail lashing back and forth behind him.

“She’s changed,” Rickkter said, passing one paw before his eyes. He stood up then, and straightened out his tunic. “Something has altered her from when we placed her here last night.”

“Altered her?” George asked, looking from the raccoon down to the knight. “How?”

“A part of her has been removed. I cannot tell what it was, though I don’t remember seeing anything unusual in her last night. I had hoped that closer scrutiny would reveal something, but it appears that whatever had been there is gone now. And it’s taken a part of her spirit with it.”

Misha blinked in both surprise and horror. “Her spirit?”

“Aye, her spirit. Whatever was removed had been anchored to her spirit. It looks like it was sliced free. Sort of like taking a knife to a piece of cloth and cutting out a square. That’s what has happened to her spirit. I just cannot tell what was removed, or how it was done. She had to have done it herself though, which makes no sense.”

“And is that why she is in shock?”

“Aye. The severing has done a lot of damage to her that time alone will be able to heal. Few are the magics that can heal this wound, and as we do not understand what was torn from her, even they might not work, or may cause more harm.”

George crossed his arms. “When did this severing happen?”

“Probably when Roscoe found her in that seizure.”

“And she had to do it to herself?”

“Of course. The cells are shielded from magic, and with the light spell inside, nobody could shadowwalk through the magical barriers,” Rickkter pointed out.

Misha nodded grimly, looking to the half-naked form of Bryonoth. She stared down at her feet, no even appearing to hear anything they said. This once proud knight of the Ecclesia had been reduced to this. He could not help but feel intensely sorry for her. With a heavy sigh, he gripped the thick roll of cloth in his paws all the tighter. And then he looked down at it curiously.

“So why did she take all of her clothes off?” George asked, tail wagging slightly, ears erect.

“I don’t quite know about that,” Rickkter admitted, glancing back towards Bryonoth, eyes narrowing.

Misha lifted the bit of cloth once more, staring at it. Pulling it closer to his face, he could smell Bryonoth’s breath on it, as well as a bit of her gastric juices. Not to mention the fetid odour of Roscoe himself. He blanched at the foul fragrances, but continued to study the material. It had been bound thickly together, with each layer of cloth folded across each other as tightly as possible. He lifted the cloth over his snout and pulled it across his eyes on a sudden whim, and as it covered them completely, everything became dark.

Feeling a sudden rush of exhilaration, Misha lifted the mask off, and then placed it back over his face again. Each time, light was replaced with shadow, and then back again. “Rickkter!” Misha exclaimed. “This is why she stripped her clothes.” Having the raccoon’s attention, he placed it once more over his eyes. “With this on, I cannot see a thing.”


“So all I see is shadow!” Misha stressed that final word by drawing it out for a few seconds. He took the mask back off then, and held it out for the raccoon. Rickkter blinked once, and then dawning comprehension began to spread across his visage. He snatched up the mask, and stared fixedly at it for several moments.

“Damn!” Rickkter swore then, claws digging into the fabric. “That clever bastard! He must have had some sort of link to her. But one only accessible through shadow. So she made this mask from her clothes to create shadow. Closing her eyes wouldn’t do it, the light would still shine through her eyelids. She needed a thick mask. This must have taken her all night to stitch together.”

“And when she gets it on, Zagrosek tears something from her,” Misha finished, grimacing a new. He looked back to Bryonoth who was now drooling slightly. His sympathy for her increased anew at that.

“Probably the link he had to her,” Rickkter surmised. “He was just trying to cover all of his tracks, or as many as he could. We had Bryonoth in our possession. He knew eventually we would study her. Damn! I should have studied her last night when I had the chance.”

“You couldn’t have known about this, Rick,” Misha consoled.

“Perhaps not. But I should have. Misha, you need to go speak to your sister. I’ll stay here and continue to examine Bryonoth. Perhaps there are some clues left behind. If so, I will find them.”

Misha nodded then. “Very well. I shall let Roscoe know that you may be down here a while.”

But the raccoon had already turned to examine Bryonoth once more. So engrossed in his study, he merely nodded as the fox and jackal left him alone with her.

The boy sat at a table upon a modest veranda overlooking the northern woods. Standing over his shoulder was an older lady. She was pointing at the bit of parchment the young boy was furiously scribbling at. The child’s eyes, a russet beneath the golden curls he bore, showed that they he was bored.

Zagrosek watched from around the marble balustrades for a few minutes, staying out of obvious sight from the boy and the mistress. He had seen the child before naturally, they had supped at the same table only the day before. And now, after listening to the child’s protestations and complaints, he knew that little Lucat Guilford did not like learning how to write.

After a particularly sharp exchange, Zagrosek smiled and stepped around the corner where he could be seen. At the back of the veranda he saw two of the blue-liveried guards of Masyor stood watch. They shifted to a posture of alarm as he came around so close, but did not move to stop him just yet. Both the boy and the old mistress, who graying hair was pulled back tightly behind her head with a blue sash, stared at him in surprise.

“Pardon my intrusion, young lord Lucat,” he said, smiling directly at the boy. “I could not help but hear how much you hate reading and writing. Terribly boring and all that.”

“Lucat must learn to read and write if he is to be a proper lord,” the mistress said in a very proper and rather haughty tone.

“But that’s not what he really wants, is it Lucat,” Zagrosek asked, leaning against the railing and smiling rather playfully. “You’d rather be ought doing something fun like fishing and catching frogs, am I right?”

Lucat nodded, smiling amiably back to him then. “Aye! Can I mistress Abby?”

The old woman, Abby, sniffed dismissively. She regarded Zagrosek as an unwelcome interloper. “Of course not! This is young Lucat’s study time. He is not to leave the veranda. Especially not for silly games!”

Zagrosek nodded his head at that. “Of course, Mistress Abby. My mistake. I do apologize for that. But I think you will gain nothing by further study. You should let the boy be a boy. He would be much happier that way.” He then smiled once more to the golden-haired lad. “I bet you don’t care much for parchment now do you, Lucat?”

The boy shook his head which earned him a stern gaze from the mistress. “He will learn to appreciate them. Now be off with you. You are interrupting his studies.”

Zagrosek nodded sadly at that, offering the boy an apologetic moue. “I do ask your forgiveness oh little lord-to-be of Masyor.”

“No please don’t go, Master!” the boy cried suddenly, nearly knocking over a stack of fresh parchments on the table as he reached across it. In fact, a few sheets did go fluttering to the ground. Zagrosek caught one between his fingers as he backed up a step.

“I must, it is your study time, so says mistress Abby.” And with one final smile, he turned and walked out into the fields between the manor house and the northern woods. The piece of parchment was still in his hands. He could hear Mistress Abby remonstrate the boy some more, as he disconsolately set back to his writing and reading. But as the Sondeckis ever left the sight of the veranda, he could feel the older woman’s eyes upon him the whole time.

Not that he was worried. Sitting down next to a tree, he kept his profile clearly visible to the boy. Taking the parchment in his hands, he folded it in half lengthwise. Turning it over in his hands, he took one side and folded it until the edges were flush. And then he did it again, and then once more until he was satisfied. Turning the folded bit of parchment over, he did the same to the other flap, folding it over until the one edge aligned with the bottom three times.

He surveyed his folded parchment for a few moments, keeping one eyes turned unobtrusively towards the boy. When he was certain that the boy’s eyes were on him, he flicked his wrist and sent the folded parchment into the air. It went forward a few feet before turning oddly in the air and twisting upwards before falling back down to lie limply on the grass. He got up then, picked up his contraption, and launched it into the air again. It flew for a moment before it deflected strangely and spiralled back towards the ground. It landed right-side up though, very nearly at his feet.

Zagrosek threw the folded parchment several more times. With each new toss, Lucat become more jittery in his seat, shifting about, messing up words with the quill. And after a few minutes, he was so thoroughly intrigued by what the Sondeckis was doing that even the stern shouts of Mistress Abby were not enough to return him to his studies. Taking his parchment, he folded the ends up slightly, and then sent it aloft once more.

Zagrosek held out his arm after this flight though, pushing the parchment along as carefully as he dared with his Sondeck. It was not much, but it gave the parchment the extra boost it needed. Much the Abby’s shock, it landed smoothly on the table in front of the boy.

“Oh, I am sorry,” Zagrosek called, rushing back over to the veranda. He could see one of the guards roll his eyes.

Lucat snatched up the folded parchment before Abby could though, and he jumped form his seat and ran to the banister. “What’s this, Master?”

“That is none of your business!” Abby shouted while trying to climb over the fallen chair in her long dress. One of the two guards began to laugh under his breath, covering it with one hand.

“It’s a paper bird,” Zagrosek replied, smiling. “It’s not a very good one though, but it’s made to fly. Here, throw it and see.”

“Lucat!” Mistress Abby cried out, trying to stop him, but the boy pulled back the paper bird, and launched it into the air. It went forward a few feet ad then nosedived into the earth.

“Oh can I make one?” Lucat asked excitedly, jumping up and down. Mistress Abby clutched at his arm, but Zagrosek was quicker. Turning to the side, he jabbed his fist towards where one of her feet were. Sending the force out in a tap, the older lady slipped and fell completely over the balustrade. Suddenly alarmed, the two guards rushed forward, even as she screamed in horror.

But again, Zagrosek was there, holding out his arms and catching her, but not before her head bumped slightly against the ground. “Are you all right, Mistress Aby?” he asked, laying her down on the grass.

“Oh my head,” she moaned, resting one hand on her head. “I need to sit down.”

“Of course,” Zagrosek replied. He looked back up at the two guards who now framed the surprised boy. Lucat’s look of surprise changed to one of concern. “Are you okay, Mistress Abby?”

“She’ll be fine, Lucat,” Zagrosek assured him, before looking to both guards. “She just needs to rest for a few minutes. May I bring her up?”

“Of course,” one of the guards said, opening the small gate at one end. “I remember you. You are the Pyralian noble’s servant. You ate with Lord Guilford yesterday.”

Zagrosek smiled then, “Quite an agreeable meal, your Lord is most hospitable.” Carrying the rather light mistress through the gate, he set her down against the wall, where she continued to rub at her head, eyes closed. Turning to the boy, he offered him a consoling smile. “She’ll be ll right in a few minutes. Would you like to see my paper bird?” He stopped and looked back to both guards, “If that is fine by you.”

The guards looked surprised by both questions, but slowly nodded their heads. “You don’t have any weapons do you?” the one asked.

Zagrosek gestured to his clothes, the sable black tunic and trousers he had worn the last few days. “I bear no weapons, and as you can see, no necklaces to hide a knife upon. Shall I remove my boots?”

“No,” the one guard said with a smile. “Go ahead and show him your bird there.”

Nodding, Zagrosek returned to Lucat, who was cradling the paper bird in his hands, pulling at the folds of paper curiously. “Would you like to make one, Lucat?”

The boy nodded vigorously then. “Can you show me?”

“Of course, sit down here and I’ll show you how they work.” The boy did so quite agreeably, veritably bouncing in his seat. Zagrosek selected the next sheep of parchment from the stack, and laid it out before the boy. “Now fold this in half like so,” he showed the boy folding it lengthwise, and then let the parchment fall flat. “Now you do it.”

Lucat did as asked, folding the paper right down the middle. He even made sure to crease the fold to keep it flat. “Good!” Zagrosek said with delight. “Now take one corner here and fold it back so that the edges are touching. Here let me show you, and you can do the other side.”

All in all, it only took another minute before Lucat himself had his own paper bird and he was flinging it around the veranda. The guards forbade him from running out onto the grass, so much of the boys enthusiasm was trapped. After a while though, the front of the paper bird had become bent, and so it barely flew at all, even with the boys mightiest of launches. And so Zagrosek motioned him back over to the table, where had been busy diligently folding the pieces of parchment into other shapes.

These other shapes were far more adroitly crafted than the simple paper bird. While the bent bit of parchment that Lucat had abused by grinding its nose into the veranda did not look very much like an actual bird, the pieces that Zagrosek was now making did bear a strong resemblance to other creatures. Sitting there upon the table was the upper half of a goose, and following after it appeared to be four little goslings, each as if they were swimming upon the table.

“There are lots of things you can do with parchment,” Zagrosek told him, even as he began to fold yet one more piece. Taking the top corner, he folded it down until the sides were flush. He then took the parchment not covered and carefully tore it free. Discarding that strip, he returned to the triangle before him. He folded it once again down the middle, and then opened it once more fully. “Some, like these here are quite wonderful to look at. And they take a lot of practice to do right. Some, like the paper bird, and what I’m doing now are more for fun. Would you like to see what I’m doing now, Lucat?”

The boy nodded and climbed up in his chair once more, practically standing in it as he leaned far over the table to watch. “What are you making?” Lucat asked eagerly.

“You will see,” Zagrosek said, smiling as he leaned over. “It’s a secret!” he said in a raised whisper. This delighted the boy even further, and Lucat grinned even wider than before, forgetting all about his paper bird.

Zagrosek took each corner of the paper and folded it to the middle. He then turned the parchment over and did the same thing there. Quite suddenly, he slipped his fingers beneath some of the folds, and turned the piece of paper into what appeared to be a flower. “Did you like that?”

“Aye!” Lucat cried, holding out his hands to take the strangely flower-like paper construction.

But Zagrosek shook his head and set it back down. “It’s not quite finished yet. There’s one more thing to do with this.” He leaned closer and in that raised whisper added, “You can use this to send secret messages!”

Lucat looked both surprised and doubly intrigued by this, and he actually did begin to stand on his chair to see what was happening. Zagrosek glanced past him momentarily and could see that Mistress Abby was slowly getting to her feet with the help of one of the guards. He’d have to be quick before she completely recovered.

After flattening the flower back out, he took the quill and quickly scribed words on each of the four petals. He blew across the ink to be sure that it had dried first, and then turned the piece of paper upside down, writing a word on each of the eight inner petals. Lucat was straining to see what was being written, but Zagrosek shielded it enough and moved quickly enough that the boy couldn’t tell.

Once satisfied that the ink there had also dried, Zagrosek unfolded the eight inner petals and wrote out again eight quick messages on the inside. Nothing elaborate, just something to pique the boy’s interest even more. And after drying off those messages, he folded the flower back up and held it in his fingers once more before the child.

“Now,” Zagrosek said, smiling past the boy to Mistress Abby who was rubbing her head and watching him curiously, “I’ll show you how you can send secret messages with this. You see the four words on the top. They’re part of the code. Each has a different number of letters, you see? Pick one of the words.”

Lucat nodded and pointed to the on that said “Masyor”. Zagrosek then opened the petal so that four of the inside petals were showing. “Now, we count out the letters in Masyor.” And with each number, he flipped the flower so that the opposing faces were showing. Lucat grinned in delight, very nearly bouncing in his chair as he watched.

After the sixth turn, Zagrosek held the flower open, showing only four of the inside petals. “Now pick one of these words, and remember, we will count out the number of letters in it.”

Lucat nodded and pressed his finger to one petal and said, “That one! Manor!” Zagrosek smiled as the boy properly read the word, and then turned the flower again five times.

“Now, we open the flower to see what it says inside. We open the word with five letters, just like in Manor. Which one is that, Lucat?”

The boy examined the flower curiously for a moment and then pointed proudly and announced. “That’s it! Noble!”

“Very good! Now open it up to read your secret message!” Zagrosek practically crooned. One of his eyes cast up to Mistress Abby who was staring at him in open astonishment.

Lucat took the flower in his hands and nearly tore off the fold in order to see what Zagrosek had written beneath it. He laughed then, turning to show Mistress Abby. “Master Zaggersok says that Lord Dupré is a Willie Duppie! Lord Willie Duppie!”

Mistress Abby looked suddenly quite horrified, blushing furiously at the words. “Now, Lucat, don’t use such language. I bet there are other better messages written for you in there.”

Zagrosek nodded, smiling himself. “And you can make those yourself, Lucat, when you want to send secret messages.”

“Can we make another, Mistress Abby? I want to make one!” Lucat pleaded, holding the flower in his hands so tightly that it nearly crumpled.

“You’ll have to write all your own messages,” Abby pointed out, seeming to sense just what it had been that Zagrosek had done.

“I want to!” Lucat begged, almost jumping up and down on his chair.

“Very well, but you will have to sit down first.”

The boy complied, sitting down so fast he nearly fell down. “Now you want to start by folding your paper properly as Master Zaggersok showed you.” She looked curiously up at him for a moment.

“It is Zagrosek,” he answered her unspoken question. “Are you all right?”

She nodded, smiling. Lucat was busy folding the paper as Zagrosek had shown him earlier. “Aye. Thank you. I’ve never seen him this interested in you know what.”

“It was my pleasure, Mistress.” He then patted Lucat on the shoulder. “I have to depart for a time, Lucat, but I shall return nigh. You can send me your secret messages then.”

“Thank you, Master Zaggersok!” the boy chimed delightedly.

With a smile and a bow, Zagrosek stepped back from the table, and then vaulted off the veranda. “Thank you, my little Lord. And listen well to Mistress Abby. She’ll help you write lots of secret messages.”

And with that, he turned about, walking through the grasses of the Verdane manor fields. He began to whistle a tune upon his lips.

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