Chapter 14.3

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The door to Corvus's study was unlocked. It was as if he expected them.

Carmen pulled a volume off a bookcase and a swathe of parchment fell out, sweeping to the floor. Sheets see-sawed lazily down. Ward grabbed one of them out of the air. "But this is just like -"

"They're all like that," Carmen said. She held up a piece of parchment so Ward could see it. It was like the one they had seen at Snapper's house, though clearly not as old.

"I don't think he'd just leave it lying around," Slops said. He guiltily eyed the mess Carmen had made.

Who can blame him for feeling guilty? Ward thought. Corvus had always been nice to him. He gave him the Oliphant after all.

"Slops," Ward said.

"Huh?"

"You know when Corvus gave you the Oliphant?"

"Huh?"

"The Oliphant Slops. Corvus gave it to you, didn't he?"

"Yeh."

"Why?"

"Cos I like music I guess."

"Did he say anything else?"

"Huh?" Slops was now sifting halfheartedly through a stack of parchment.

"What did he say to you?"

"Nothing. Wait. No. Unless -"

"Unless what?"

"He said something to Leif."

As if it had been called, the gillywig emerged from Slops's coat pocket and peered about, its nose twitching. Ward had forgotten Slops had it with him.

"He spoke to the gillywig?" Mildew said.

"Yeah."

"Did you hear what he told it – him?" Ward said.

"Nope." Slops had reached the bottom of the stack. He returned it gingerly to the shelf. "What are we looking for anyway?"

"That's the thing, I don't know," Carmen said from the floor, where she sat surrounded by parchment. She was not taking nearly as much care as Slops was. "Maybe we'll know when we see it."

"And maybe we'll still be searching this room when Corvus walks through the door," Nick said.

Carmen rounded on him. "This was your idea. If you haven't got anything helpful to say you should just -"

"But I have. I was about to suggest you ask Leif."

There was a sudden silence.

"Me?" Carmen said. "How did you know I...?"

"I didn't. But your father was a Dolittler, and it's hereditary."

"Dolittler?" Ward said.

"Someone who can talk..." Nick said, but at this Carmen looked like she was about to argue. "Well, communicate with animals."

"I always wondered about Dad," Carmen murmured.

Ward said, "I thought you were – when you said Grim told you – that you were -"

"Making it up?" Carmen said. There was a dangerous note in her voice.

"Well no, not exact -"

"That I was crazy?"

"I didn't know what to think," he said, truthfully.

"We're wasting time," Mildew said. "If you're a Dolitterer like Nick reckons -"

"Dolittler," Slops corrected.

"Whatever," Mildew said, giving Slops a look that made him turn pink, "then you'd better speak to the gerbil."

"Gillywig," Ward said, giving Slops a wink.

Mildew responded by plucking the startled gillywig from Slops's pocket and laying it on a table in front of Carmen.

"Hey!" Slops said.

"Slops," Ward said. "You're not a - ?"

"No," Carmen said, without taking her eyes off the gillywig.

"I'm not," Slops said.

"Slops," Carmen said. "Do you mind if - ?" Her voice was uncharacteristically meek. Ward got the impression that talking to someone else's familiar was a rather personal thing, like reading their diary.

"It's okay," Slops said.

Carmen crouched down until her nose was almost touching Leif's. There was a kind of intimacy in it. The gillywig looked back up at her, its whiskers twitching, its black eyes alive with mousey intelligence. For a full minute the room was perfectly silent.

Finally, Carmen stood up and seemed to gather her thoughts.

"Well?" Ward said.

"I don't know if I got through to him." She glanced nervously back at the gillywig, who was now cleaning his face. "Maybe he didn't want to tell me anything."

"Funny you never tried with him before," Mildew said.

Carmen's face went pink. "I wouldn't've," she murmured.

"Corvus's archon spoke to you," Ward said.

"That's different. He started it."


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Don't Dolittering.

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