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The Grand, and Worthy Nose
winter killed him. As a child, Ferras had seen that man’s constant expression of astonished horror–a
look that suggested whatever had happened to him across the Shadowline was happening to him still
and would continue happening every moment of every day. Although no one had said anything but
what was correct and pious, everyone in the village had been relieved when the mad old man had
Collum’s question yanked him back to the here and now. “How far does the road lead?”
Ferras shook his head. “Northmarch Castle was about four or five days’ ride from here, I think. So the
old gaffers in my village said, although it was at least a century before their time when anyone could
still go there. And its lands and towns extended a good way farther north, I think.”
Collum Dyer clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Mesiya’s teats! And just think–now it’s all empty.”
Vansen stared at the wide road cutting across the hummocky land to where the fogs swallowed it. “So
you think. So we hope. But I don’t want to consider it just now, to speak the plain truth. I don’t like
Collum turned and nodded toward Raemon Beck, sitting on his horse at the far side of the troop of
guards, staring resolutely southward with a face pale as a fish’s belly. “Neither does he.”
FerrasVansen felt a tug of yearning as they rode along the Settland Road past the towns and villages
of Daler’s Troth–Little Stell, Candlerstown, and Dale House, the seat of Earl Rorick Longarren, who
would have wed the young woman stolen from Raemon Beck’s caravan. Vansen had not returned to
his hilly home since he was still a raw young soldier, and it was hard not to think about how some of
the men in Creedy’s Inn at Greater Stell would sit up to see him at the head of an entire troop,
undertaking a mission at the direct order of the princess regent.
Yes, a mission that’s httle better than a banishment, he reminded himself.
But he was not much moved by the idea of preening in any case. His mother’s death a year before had
left httle to tie him to this land of his childhood His sisters and their husbands had followed him to
Southmarch Town. The folk here that he remembered would scarcely remember him, and in any case,
what was the enjoyment of trying to make them feel worse about their hardscrabble lives? It was only
the children of the really wealthy farmers, the ones who had mocked him for his shabbiness, for
hisVuttish father’s strange way of speaking, that he would have wished to humiliate, and if they had
inherited their fathers’ holdings they were undoubtedly richer than any mere guard captain, even the
guard captain to the royal family.
There truly is nothing here for me now, he realized, with some surprise. Only my parents’ graves,
and those are a half day’s ride off the road.
A light rain had begun to fall; it took him a moment to pick Raemon Beck from the crowd of hooded
riders. Vansen guided his horse over to the young merchant’s side.
“You have a wife and some young ones at home, I think you said.”
Beck nodded. His face was grim, but it was the grimness of a child who was one harsh word away
from tears. “What are their names?”
The young merchant looked at him with suspicion. Not all of Collum Dyer’s rough jokes had been
kind, and clearly he wondered whether Vansen was going to make sport of him, too. “Derla. My
wife’s name is Derla. And I have two boys.” He took a deep breath, let it out in an unsteady hiss.
“Little Raemon, he’s the eldest. And Finton, he’s still . . . still in swaddling . . .” Beck turned away.
“I envy you.”
“Envy? I have not seen them in almost two months! And now . . .”
“And now you must wait -weeks longer. I know. But we have sent them word that you are well, that
you are doing the crown’s business . . .”
Beck’s laugh had a ragged edge. “Weeks . . . ? You’re a fool, Captain.You didn’t see what I saw.
They’re going to take you all, and me with you. I will never see my family again.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps the gods mean our end. They have their own plans, their own ways.” Ferras
shrugged. “I would fear it more if I had more to lose, perhaps I honestly hope you come safe to your
family again, Beck. I will do my best to see that it happens.”
The young merchant stared at his horse’s neck. Beck had a good face, Vansen thought, with strong
nose and clear eyes, but not much of a chin. He wondered what the man’s wife looked like. Depends
on Beck’s prospects with the family venture, he decided: a man could become surprisingly taller and
handsomer merely by the addition of wealthy relatives.
“Do you . . . are you married?” Beck asked him suddenly.
“To the royal guard!” shouted Collum Dyer from a few yards away. “And it is a warm coupling–the
guard gives us all a swiving every payday!”
Ferras grunted, amused. “No, not married,” he said. “Nor likely to be. One thing Dyer says is true–I
am married to the guard.” There had been a few over the years he had almost thought possible,
especially a merchant’s daughter he had met in the marketplace.They had liked each other, and had
met and spoken several times, but she had already been pledged and so was duly married to a
Marnnswalk furrier’s son with lucrative Brennish connections. Other than that, his dalliances had
reached too low or too high, the taverner’s daughter at an inn called the Quiller’s Mint, friendly but
twice widowed and five years his senior, and when he had first joined the guard, a woman of the
minor nobility whose husband ignored her.
Too high . . . ? he thought. No, that was not too high –not compared to the madness that is in my
heart these days. The image of Princess Briony’s face as she sent him away came to him, the
strangeness of it, as though she did not entirely hate him after all. A year now I have felt it, this
terrible, hopeless ache. There is nothing higher that I could aspire to, or more foolish How could I
marry someone else, except for companionship? But how could I settle for any woman when I
would think only of her?
Well, he thought, perhaps her wish will come true. Perhaps this journey will provide me with a
chance to die honorably and everyone will be satisfied.
No, not everyone would be satisified, he realized. What Ferras Vansen really wanted was to live
honorably, even happily. And to marry a princess, although that would not happen in this world or
any other he could imagine.
He was meeting her near Merolanna’s chambers, in the back hallway of the main residence, known as
the Wolf Hall for the faded tapestry of the family crest that took up a large portion of its south wall. It
had too many stars and a mysterious crescent moon hung above the wolf’s snarling head, showing it to
be a remnant of some earlier generation of Eddons. How long it had hung there no one could
remember or even guess.
Like Briony, he had promised Merolanna he would come alone–no guards, no pages. She had been
forced to speak sharply to Rose and Moina to get them to let her be, of course. Clearly her ladies
feared she had an assignation with Dawet, but their resistance upset her just enough that she did not
bother to tell them otherwise.
She watched her brother saunter up the corridor through the slanting colums of autumn light that
filtered down from the windows, uneven light that made the passage seem as though it were under
water and which turned the bucket and mop left inexplicably in the middle of the floor and the small
offering-shrine to Zoria on the broad table into dully glimmering things that might have spilled from
the belly of a sunken ship. For a moment, as Briony noted by the way her twin held his arm close to
his body that it was hurting him, they might have been children again, escaped from their tutors for a
morning to play scapegrace around the great castle.
But something was different, she saw. He seemed better–he no longer moved like a dying man,
draggled and slow–but instead of becoming again the disdainful, unhappy Barrick Eddon she knew
nearly as well as herself, he had a bounce in his step that seemed equally foreign, and his eyes as he
neared her seemed to burn with a mischievous vigor.
“So someone in our family finally agrees to speak to us.” Barrick did not stop to give her a kiss, did
not stop at all, but swept past, still talking swiftly, leading her toward Merolanna’s door as though he
had been waiting for Briony, not the other way around. “After our stepmother, I begin to think they
fear taking the plague from me.”
“Anissa said she did not feel well herself. She is pregnant, after all.”
“And it came on an hour before we were to dine with her? Perhaps that is all it is Perhaps.” “You are
jumping at shadows.”
He turned to look at her, and again she wondered if the fever had truly left him. Why otherwise this
eye bright as a bird’s, this strange air, as though at any moment he might fly into pieces? “Shadows?
A strange word to use.” He paused and seemed to find himself a little. “All I’m saying is, why won’t
our stepmother talk to us?”
“We will give her a few more days. Then we will make it a command.”
Barrick arched an eyebrow. “Can we do that?”
“We’ll find out.” She reached out and knocked on Merolanna’s door. Ellis, the duchess’ little serving
maid, opened it and stood for a long moment stock-still and blinking like a mouse caught on a
tabletop. At last she made a courtesy, found her voice. “She’s lying down, Highnesses. She wants me
to bring you to her.”
Inside, several older women and a few young ones sat doing needlework. They rose and made their
own courtesies to the prince and princess Briony said a few words to each. Barrick nodded his head,
but smiled only at those who were young and pretty. He was bouncingly impatient, as though he
already wished he had not come.
Merolanna sat up in bed as the serving maid drew the curtain. “Ellis? Bid the other ladies go, please.
You, too. I want to be alone with Barrick and Briony.” Their great-aunt did not look ill, Briony
thought with some relief, but she did look old and tired. These days Briony was not used to seeing
Merolanna without face paint, so it was hard to know for certain whether the changes were real or
just the ordinary punishments of time left unhidden, but there was no mistaking the swollen eyes. The
duchess had been crying.
“There,” the old woman said when the room was clear. “I cannot abide being listened to.” There was
an unusual violence in her voice. She fanned herself. “Some things are not for others to know.”
“How are you, Auntie? We’ve been worried about you.”
She manufactured a smile for Briony. “As well as can be expected, dear one. It’s kind of you to ask.”
She turned to Barrick. “And you, boy? How are you feeling?”
Barrick’s smile was almost a smirk. “The grip of old Kernios is a bit more slippery than everyone
thinks, it seems.”
Merolanna went quite pale. She brought her hand to her breast as though to keep her heart inside it.
“Don’t say such things! Merciful Zoria, Barrick, don’t tempt the gods. Not now, when they have done
us so much mischief already.”
Briony was irritated with her brother, not least because it did seem foolish to make such a boast, but
she was also puzzled by Merolanna’s reaction, her frightened eyes and trembling hands. All through
the time before Kendrick’s funeral their great-aunt had been the strongest pillar of the family and the
household. Was it just that her strength had run out?
“I’ll say it again, Auntie.” Briony reached out and took her hand. “We have been worried about you.
Are you ill?” A sad smile. “Not in the sense you mean, dear. No, not like our poor Barrick has been.”
“I’m well now, Auntie.”
“I can see that.” But she looked at him as though she did not entirely believe it. “No, I have just . . had
a turn, I suppose. A bad moment. But it frightened me, and made me think I’ve not done right. I’ve
spent time, a great deal of time lately, talking to the Hierarch Sisel about it, you know. He’s a very
kind man, really. A good listener.”
“But not to Father Timoid?” It seemed odd–usually Merolanna and the Eddon family priest were a
conspiracy of two. “He’s a terrible gossip.”
“That’s never bothered you before.”
Merolanna gave her a flat look, almost as though she spoke to a stranger. “I’ve never had to worry
about it before.”
Barrick laughed suddenly, harshly. “What, Auntie? Have you begun a love affair with someone? Or
are you plotting to take the crown yourself?”
“Barrick!” Briony almost slapped him. “What a terrible thing to say!”
Merolanna looked at him and shook her head, but to Briony’s eyes the old woman still seemed oddly
detached. “A few weeks ago, I would have been after you with a stick, boy. How can you talk like
that to me, who raised you almost like a mother?”
“It was a jest!” He folded his arms and leaned against the bedpost, his face a resentful mask. “A jest.”
“What is it, then?” Briony asked. “Something is happening here, Auntie. What is it?” Merolanna
fanned herself. “I’m going mad, that’s all.”
“What are you talking about? You’re not going mad.” But Briony saw Barrick lean forward, his
sullenness gone. “Auntie?” she asked.
“Fetch me a cup of wine. That pitcher, there. And not too much water.” When she had the cup in her
hand, Merolanna sipped it, then sat up straighter. “Come, sit on the bed, both of you. I cannot bear to
have you standing there, looking down on me.” She patted the bed, almost begging. “Please. There.
Now listen. And please don’t ask me any questions, not until I finish. Because if you do, I will start
crying and then I’ll never stop.”
It was finally Godsday, with Lastday to follow; Chert welcomed the days of rest. His bones ached
and he had a hot throb in his back that would not go away. He was glad to bid the tennight good-bye
for other reasons, too. The prince’s funeral that began it, with its weight of hard work and terrible
sadness, had taken much out of him, and the boy’s disappearance that day had frightened him badly.
What is he? Chert wondered. Not just his strangeness, but what is he to us? Is he a son? Will
someone, his true parents, come and take him away from us? He looked at Opal, who was sniffing
at a row of pots she had set up on the far side of the table. My old woman will be stabbed in the
heart if the boy leaves us.
As will I, he realized suddenly. The child had brought life to the house, a life that Chert had never
realized was missing until now.
“I don’t think this bilberry jam is much good,” Opal said, “although it cost me three chips. Here, try
it.” Chert scowled. “What am I, a dog? ‘Here, this has gone off, you try it’?”
Opal scowled back. She was better at it than he was. “Old fool–I didn’t say it had gone off, I said I
don’t think it’s much good. I’m asking your opinion.You’re certainly quick enough to give it most
“Very well, pass it here.” He reached out and took the pot, dipped a piece of bread into it, lifted it to
his nose. It smelled like nothing more or less than bilberry jam, but it raised a strange thought: if the
old stories were true, and there were Funderlings before ever there were big folk, then who grew the
vegetables up in the sunlight? Who grew the fruits? Did the Lord of the Hot Wet Stone create us to
eat moles and cave crickets with never a bit of fruit, let alone bilberry jam? But if not, where
would such things have come from? Did the Funderlings of old have farms under the sun? It seemed
strange to think of such a thing, but stranger still to think of a world with no . . . “Jam, old man. What
do you think of the jam?”
Chert shook his head. “What?”
“I take it back–you don’t have the wits to be a fool, old man.You don’t pay enough heed.The jam!”
“Oh. It tastes like jam, no more, no less.” He looked around. “Where is the boy?” “Playing out in
front, not that you’d notice if he’d gone off to drown in the Salt Pool.” “Don’t be cross, Opal. I’m
tired. It was an uncomfortable piece of work, that tomb.” She took the pot of jam. “I’m sorry, old
fellow. You do work hard.” “Give us a kiss, then, and let’s not quarrel.”
Opal had gone off to visit her friend Agate, wife of one of Chert’s cousins, and after checking to make
sure the boy Flint was still erecting his complicated miniature fortifications of damp earth and bits of
stone outside the front door, Chert poured himself a mug of mossbrew and pulled out the mysterious
stone Flint had found. A week or so had not made it any more familiar the cloudy, unusually rounded
crystal still matched nothing he had seen or even heard of Chaven was traveling for a few days,
visiting the outlying towns with a colleague to check the spread of the disease that had almost killed
Prince Barrick, and now Chert was wishing he had spoken with the physician about it before he left.
The stone troubled him, although except for the fact that it seemed like something that might have
come from behind the Shadowline he couldn’t say why. He had half a dozen other Shadowline stones
right here in the house, after all–those which no one had wanted to buy, but which Chert had found too
interesting to discard–and had not given any of them a second thought. But this.
I could take it to the Guild, he thought. But he felt strangely certain they would not recognize it
either–maybe old High Feldspar would have, a man who had known more stonework and stone-lore
than the rest of Funderling Town put together, but Feldspar’s ashes had been returned to the earth
three years ago and Chert did not think there were many in the Guild now who knew more than he did
himself. Certainly not about Shadowline stones.
“When are you going to the talking and singing place?" a voice said behind him, making Chert jump
and slosh his mug. Flint stood in the doorway, hands so dirty it looked like he was wearing dark
gloves. As if he had been caught doing something wrong, Chert dumped the weird stone back into his
purse and pulled the string.
“Talking and singing place?" He remembered the boy’s reaction his first day in the tomb. “Oh I’m not
going to work today, lad, but if you don’t like going there other days, you can stay home with Opal
instead. She’d love to . . .” “I want you to go there. Go now.”
Chert shook his head. “This is a day of rest, lad. Everyone gets their days of rest each tennight, and
this is one of mine.”
“But I have to go there.” The child was not angry or upset, merely fixed as a hard-driven wedge. “I
want to go to where you work.”
Flint could not or would not explain his sudden interest, but neither would he be talked out of it Chert
suddenly wondered if it had something to do with the stone–after all, the boy had claimed he found it
out in the temple-yard, near the tomb. “But I can’t work today,” Chert explained. “It’s Godsday–none
of the other men will come. And in any case, clattering away with picks and cold chisels would be
offensive to the others having their rest.” Both above and below ground, he could not help thinking.
He had become a bit leery of working in the tomb, although he still thought of himself as unmoved by
big-folk superstition. Still, he would not be sad when the job was finished and he could move on to
other tasks in other places.
“Then will you just come with me?" Flint said. “Will you take me there?"
Chert could not help being astonished. The child was ordinarily well-behaved, if a bit strange, but
this was the most he had talked in days, and the only time Chert could remember that he had ever
asked for anything, let alone asking this way, with the doggedness of an army laying siege.
“You want me to take you to the tomb?”
The boy shook his head. “To the temple-yard. That’s what it’s called, isn’t it? Well, near there.” He
frowned, trying to think of something. “Just come.” He held out his hand.
Feeling as though he had entered his own front door and found himself in someone else’s house, Chert
rose and followed the boy into the street.
“We won’t go through the Funderling roads,” the boy said matter-of-factly. “I don’t want to go near
the talking, singing place.”
“If you’re talking about the Eddon family vault, there aren’t any tunnels from here that go there, or
even close to it.” Flint gave him a look that seemed almost pitying. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll go up on
top of the ground.”
“Boy, don’t you understand that my back aches and my feet ache and I just want to sit down?" Chert
had barely kept up with the child, who seemed able to walk only for a moment or two before breaking
into a sprint, then circling back like a dog anxious to be after the quarry. Chert’s only chance to catch
his breath had been at the Raven’s Gate. The guards there were now used to the Funderling man with
the adopted big-folk son, but they still found the situation amusing. This one time, Chert was grateful
that they made him and the boy wait to pass through while they thought of clever things to say.
Finally, as the two of them walked through the winding ways of the inner keep, heading toward the
temple-yard and the family vaults, he grabbed at the boy’s shirt to hold him back–he had already had
one experience of how fast the child could disappear.
“Where are we going?”
“Up there.” Flint pointed to the roof of one of the residences. “They’re waiting for me.”
“Waiting for you? Who?” It took a moment to sink in. “Hold a bit–up there? On the roof? I’m not
climbing that thing, boy, and neither are you. We have no business up there.”
“They’re waiting for me.” Flint was entirely reasonable and very firm. “Who?”
“The Old People.”
“No, no, and definitely no. I don’t know why you think . . .” Chert did not get a chance to finish his
sentence. He had made the mistake of letting go of Flint’s collar and the boy now bolted off across the
temple-yard. “Come back!” Chert cried. It was one of the more useless things he had ever said.
“I’ve never taken the strap to a child . . .” Chert growled, then had to close his mouth as stone-dust
and mortar and bits of dried moss pattered down on him from his own handhold. You’ve never had a
child to take a strap to, he told himself sourly. His backache was worse than ever, and now his arms
and legs felt as though he’d spent the entire morning wielding one of the heavy picks, something he
hadn’t done since his youth. And you’ll never take a strap to anyone if you fall and break all your
bones, so give attention to what you’re doing Still, he was furious and more than a little startled. He
had not known a child could look you in the face like that, then disobey you. Flint had been a child
with his own mind and his own secret thoughts since he had come to stay with them, but he had never
been troublesome like this.
Chert looked down and wished he hadn’t. It was years since he had been a scaffold man, and there
was in any case something different about looking down at the distant ground when the rock ceiling of
Funderling Town curved soothingly above your head. Climbing the outside of a building beneath the
naked sky, even this wall with its relatively easy handholds, was altogether different and quite
Shuddering, he lifted his gaze and looked around, certain that at this very moment a guard had noticed
the intruder climbing the residence wall and was nocking an arrow, preparing to spit him like a
squirrel. He had seen no one, but how long could that last?
“I’ve never taken the strap to a child, but this time . . .”
When he reached the top at last, it was all he could do to pull himself onto the tiled roof, gasping for
air, arms and legs trembling. When he could at last drag himself up into a crouch and look around, he
saw Flint only a short distance away, seated just below the crest of the roof with his back against one
of the large chimney pots, waiting calmly and expectantly–but not for his adopted father, it appeared,
since he was not even looking at him. Chert wiped the sweat from his face and began to clamber
cautiously up the mossy slope toward the boy, cursing with every breath. Heights. He did not like
heights. He didn’t really think he liked children either. So what in the name of the Earth Elders was he
doing on the roof of Southmarch Castle, chasing this mad boy?
His legs were shaking so badly by the time he reached the chimney that he had to cling to the bricks
while he stretched and worked out the cramps. Flint looked at him with the same sober stare he
employed in all other places and situations.
“I am angry, boy,” Chert growled. He looked around to see if anyone could see them from an upper
window, but the boy had picked a spot where the low roof was blocked by taller parts of the
residence, window-less walls that turned this section into a kind of tiled canyon, protected from the
view of any of the near towers. In fact, even the top of
mighty Wolfs-tooth Spire was barely visible above them, blocked by the overhang of a nearby roof.
But Chert still had a strong urge to whisper. “Did you hear me? I said I’m angry . . . !”
Flint turned to him and laid his finger across his lips. “Sssshhh.”
Just before Chert lost his mind entirely, he was distracted by a flicker of movement along the crest of
the roof. As he stared in utter astonishment, a figure appeared there. For the first moments he thought
the tiny man-shape must be someone standing on the uppermost point of some distant tower, a tower
which itself was blocked from his view by the roof on which he and the boy were sitting–what else
could explain such a sight? But as the figure began clambering down the roof toward them, moving
with surprising grace and speed along the moss-furred spaces between tiles, Chert could no longer
pretend the newcomer was anything but a finger-high man. He sucked in air with a strangled wheeze
and the little fellow stopped.
“That’s Chert.” Flint explained to the tiny man. “He came with me I live in his house.”
The minuscule fellow began to descend again, faster now, almost swinging from one handhold to
another, until he reached Flint. He stood by the boy and peered past him at Chert with–as far as Chert
could read in a face the size of a button–a measure of suspicion.
“And tha say un be good, so will I believe ‘ee.” The tiny fellow’s voice was high as the fluting of a
songbird, but Chert could make out every word.
“A Rooftopper.” Chert breathed. It was amazingly strange to see an old story standing in front of you,
living and breathing and no bigger than a cricket. He had thought the Rooftoppers, if not entirely
invented by generations of Funderling mothers and grannies, to be at least so distantly lost in history
as to be the same thing. “Fissure and fracture, boy! Where did you find him?"
“Find me?” The little creature stepped toward him, fists cocked on his hips. “What, Beetledown the
Bowman but a child’s toy, found and dropped again. “Bested me in fair fight, un did.”
Chert shook his head in confusion, but Beetledown didn’t seem to care Instead, he turned and
produced a tiny silver object from the inside of his jerkin and put it to his lips. If it made a noise, it
was too quiet or high-reaching for Chert’s old ears, but a moment later an entire crowd of diminutive
shapes appeared over the crest of the roof, moving so quickly and silently that for a moment it seemed
a small carpet was sliding down the tiles toward them.
There were at least two or three dozen Rooftoppers in the gathering or delegation or whatever it was.
Those in the front were mounted on gray mice and carried long spears. Their plate armor looked to be
made from nutshells and they wore the painted skulls of birds as helmets, as they pulled up their
velvet-furred mounts, they regarded Chert balefully through the eyeholes above the long beaks.
The rest of the group followed on foot, but in their own way they were just as impressive. Although
their clothes were almost uniformly of dark colors, and made of fabric too heavy and stiff to drape
like the clothes of Funderling and big folk, they had clearly spent much time on these garments–the
outfits were intricate in design, and both the men and the women moved with the gravity of people
wearing their finest raiment.
All this, he thought, still sunk in the haze of astonishment, to meet Flint?
But even as the tiny men and women stopped in a respectful semicircle behind the mouse-riders, it
became clear that the day’s surprises were not over. The fellow who called himself Beetledown
again raised his silver pipe and blew. A moment later an even more bizarre spectacle appeared on
the roofline–a fat little man just slightly bigger than Chert’s thumb, riding on the back of a hopping
thrush. As the bird made its awkward way down the roof toward the rest of the gathering, Chert saw
that the creature’s wings were held fast against its body by the straps of the tall, boxlike covered
saddle on its back. The fat man below the awning pulled aggressively on the reins, trying to direct the
bird’s track down the tiles, but it seemed to make little difference: the bird went only where it wanted
I’ll try to remember that if someone offers me a ride on a thrush someday, Chert thought, and was
less amused by his own joke than he was impressed he could even conceive of one under the
circumstances. The whole thing was like a dream.
When the thrush had finally lurched to a halt behind the mice, its rider was dangling halfway out of the
saddle, but waved away two of the mouse-riders when they started forward to help him. He righted
himself, then clambered down out of the covered seat with surprising mmbleness for his bulk. His
climb was hampered a little by his clothes–he wore a fur-collared robe and a shiny chain on his
breast. When he reached the tiles, he accepted deep bows from the other Rooftoppers as though they
were his due, then stared squintingly at Chert and Flint as he stepped closer to them–but not so close
as to advance more than a pace or two beyond the protective line of mouse-riders.
“Is he the king?” Chert asked, but Flint did not reply. The Rooftoppers themselves were watching the
tiny fat man with wide-eyed attention as he leaned his entire head forward and . . . sniffed.
He straightened up, frowning, and then sniffed again, a great intake of air so powerful that Chert could
hear it as a thin whistle. The fat man’s frown became a scowl, and he said something in a quick highpitched voice that Chert couldn’t understand at all, but the other Rooftoppers all gasped and shrank
back a few steps, looking up in fear at Chert and Flint as though they had suddenly sprouted fangs and
“What did he say?” asked Chert, caught up in the drama.
Beetledown stepped forward, his face pale but resolute. He bowed. “Sorry, I be, but the Grand and
Worthy Nose speaks the tongue of giants not so well as we men of the Gutter-Scouts.” He shook his
head gravely. “Even more sorry, I be, but he says tha canst not meet the queen today, because one of
tha twain smells very, very wicked indeed.”
“It was long ago–so long ago,” Merolanna told them. “When I first came here from Fael to wed your
great-uncle Daman. You do not remember him, of course–he died long before you two were born.”
“His picture is in the long hall,” said Briony. “He looks . . . very serious.”