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Chapter 3: The Cursewright's Client, Part 4

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"Erm . . . milady?" Casimir had no idea how to address this stranger, but he knew from Ammas and Barthim both that a tradesman erred on the side of courtesy.

The figure glanced up, bright hazel eyes peering from a pale face. "Yes?"

"I got a message from you, I think. That you were looking for Ammas Mourthia."

Hesitantly the young woman lifted her hood back. Except for a blotch of dirt across her cheeks and forehead, she was quite lovely, even prettier, Casimir thought, than the girls at the Lioness. "You -- you come from him?"

Casimir nodded. "Yes, milady. I'm Casimir, his apprentice."

"I was not aware cursewrights still took apprentices," she replied doubtfully. Casimir had only rarely heard an accent like hers, from the wealthiest patrons of the Prideful Lioness -- sons of Malachite noblemen visiting Munazyr on some business for their houses, usually. He supposed he heard traces of it in Ammas's voice as well. "How do I know you are who you claim?"

Casimir was at a bit of a loss. There were signs and tokens men such as his master carried to prove their abilities, but he didn't know what any of them were, nor what an apprentice was supposed to do in this situation. Inspiration struck him. "You could ask Deaconess Hadeen. She knows us both."

"I believe I will do that." She stood up, smoothing down her cloak, which was so large she seemed to float within it. "I mean no offense, young man, but I need to be cautious."

"I understand, milady." And he did, but ultimately his loyalty was to Ammas and his own caution. "What is your name, and why do you require my master's service?" The words felt all wrong in his mouth, and he wasn't even sure he had spoken the correct ones.

The young woman was clearly affronted by this perfunctory inquiry. "I do not believe that is an apprentice's business. If your master is who you say, I will tell him."

Casimir shook his head. "I'm sorry, milady. I have to ask."

The young woman's expression hovered somewhere between surprise and haughtiness. Casimir thought for a moment she might call the whole thing off and storm out of the Library, never to be seen again. But at last she relented, though her speech was stiff and cool. "You may call me Mari. I need a cursewright because I am ill. Is that good enough?"

It really wasn't, but Casimir was already afraid he had gone far past his assigned duties, and desperately wanted to avoid costing his master precious business. He nodded and offered to accompany her to speak with Deaconess Hadeen. Mari agreed, though she raised her hood before leaving her cell. Casimir had only just turned eleven, but even he knew when someone was trying to travel incognito. If "Mari" was her real name he'd eat the book Hadeen had just given him.

Hadeen, feigning ignorance of Casimir's sudden appearance at the Libraries, confirmed that he was indeed Ammas's apprentice, and that he should be able to guide Mari to the cursewright's home easily enough. She wished the both of them well and returned to her book, not even glancing up at them as they stepped out of the rotunda and into the mid-morning sun of the Godsway. Casimir's affection for her seemed to treble. Deacon of the Book she might be, but she was still willing to help him in his apprenticeship, even if that meant hiding the fact of it from her colleagues. 

Mari did not speak at all as they traveled the streets, though occasionally she looked up almost bewildered, dazzled by the towering buildings, squares and courts furnished with ancient statuary, the drovers running their livestock to the yards or to one of the city gates, and the markets and fairs doing business on every other street. It could not be clearer she had never been to Munazyr before; perhaps had never even been to a city of its size, such as Gallowsport or Cavis Cove.

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