“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”

The sun rose ashamed, hiding its face behind a mourning veil. The sky shone an even and sickly gray and snatched color from the spring day, unkind in its jealousy.

Merritt strode briskly across the sodden Abbey lawn, heading for his cart where Saskia was to meet him. Instead he saw Selendra sitting squarely atop one of his crates. She had a weathered and sleepless look, like a stone pillar wet and battered but rigid.

“Fair morning, isn’t it?” Merritt asked. His back ached but he decided to be pleasant, as he felt much better than she looked.

“For somebeast. If you know who, that should be pleasant news.” She paused. “Maybe.”

“Nevertheless. Saskia was supposed to meet me–”

“Oh, and I’m meant to give you this.” She held out a cluster of drooping stems, each with a milk-white blossom turned toward the ground. He took them.

“It’s a bit late in the season for snowdrops, surely? And where is Saskia?”

“You’re worried.”

Merritt waved the comment aside. “Where–”

“She’s inside somewhere, Merritt, I never took you for a nursery mother. She’s in no more danger than you or I.”

“Somehow I find that statement, coming from you, here, entirely unreassuring.”

“Hm. The Abbot, after finding his Recorder dead last night, decreed in his paternal wisdom that we should be detained, all of us. The lockdown of the Abbey extends to yesterday’s guests as well. As though he has the right. Saskia decided to go have breakfast instead of waiting to tell you herself.”

Merritt cursed, throwing down the flowers. “The Recorder was murdered then?”

“Depends who you ask. Stupid beasts are listening to the official tale, which is natural causes.”

“But then why the lockdown?”

“Rather.” Selendra slid down from the crate and picked up the snowdrops. “You ought to keep these.”

Merritt closed his eyes as an unpleasant epiphany struck. “Raimun had the pamphlet I showed you.” He groaned. “I should never have brought the bloody thing.”

Selendra slipped the flowers into his shirt pocket. “That it was the right thing to do would not impress you, I know.” She frowned.

“Neither duty, nor honor, nor gratitude have any possible claim on me.”

Selendra chuckled raspily. “Yourself to the last, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t ever learned the trick to being anybeast else, so it will have to do.” He stared into the space over her shoulder for a few long moments. “Anyhow, why the flowers? You know I haven’t Berend’s knack for symbolizing.”

“They push through the snow to find the sun. Berend is something of an optimist.”

“Seems so, all things considered. But it doesn’t do to lose hope.” He gave her a stern look. “Nor sleep.”

She ignored him. “You might look for your first chance to get out of here, same as I will. And leaving some appropriately-directed philosophy lying around might serve us all well. If you’ve any to spare.”

He gave her a radiant grin. “I could arrange a discount on various things the Abbot mightn’t like to hear repeated. You were sitting on a crate full.”

As usurpation is the exercise of power which another has a right to, so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to,” Selendra recited.

“You’d have to ask Saskia for that one. She sold Aloysius a copy.”

“Did she now?” Selendra finally gave a full smile, honest warmth overcoming bitterness and fear.

“If you intend to turn her to your cause, best of luck. I haven’t managed to convince her, well, of anything, really.”

“Nobeast ever could, even in our school days. She suffered for it.”

“Perhaps I’m not the beast to make grand speeches about righteousness. She listens to Aloysius, I think.” Merritt looked up toward the Abbey proper. “And to speak of suffering, and righteouness….” He pointed.

Isidore marched toward them.

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Guilt By Association

June 1, 2011

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Saskia did not particularly like feasts; the clamor and bustle offended some fragment of her tradesbeast’s conscience, as they served to produce no concrete result. She wondered whether Aloysius would approve of the feast as an end in itself, as innocent celebration. Was that an acceptable excess or would the bat stay shuttered in his own chambers, ascetic and disapproving? The honest effort of preparation, she supposed, might appeal to him, though maybe not as much as the new books she’d delivered.

Aside from Aloysius’ order, she had sold a few pamphlets of sticky-sweet romantic poetry to a young mouse fellow, a brewer’s book to one of the cellar-keeper hedgehogs, and so forth. Worthy purchases all, but Saskia had little to do that morning but tend to the occasional browser and watch Merritt’s ridiculous posturing as he, at least, had steady business.

A young squirrel in a Redwall habit stood across from the ferret, three pamphlets and a small cloth-bound book clutched to his chest. Merritt shook his head mournfully.

“…yes, well, if you’re a half-mark short I’m not certain I can manage that, young sir.”

Saskia pondered the damnable lightness of her own coin purse.

“But–I s’pose you’re right. Just the two, then?” the squirrel chirped.

“For seventy, I can give you all three pamphlets, if you like. Consider it a gift for a good customer.”

The squirrel fumbled for his money. “Thank you!”

The book the squirrel hadn’t bought disappeared under the table before Saskia could get a look at the title. She imagined a few, along the same lines as what she’d printed for him: The School For Girls, Memoirs of a Fine Ladybeast

The squirrel paid and left, and finally Merritt didn’t have a customer.

“Goodness, Merritt, I’d think that fellow was old enough to know better. If not to do better, clearly.”

“I was selling him philosophy,” Merritt said, annoyance peering through his usual veil of good humor. “And none of that nonsense Sheridan has you printing, neither.”

“As though you’d know about it,” Saskia snapped back.

“In males, we various ruling passions find,
In females two almost divide the kind;
Those, only fixed, they first and last obey,
The love of pleasure, and the love of sway,”
Merritt recited, giving the whole thing an air of a schoolyard taunt, rhymes exaggerated and stretched to the point of breaking. “I do read these things, you know. And I always did wonder which it was with you, pleasure or sway. Seeing as you aren’t pleased to inform me what it is you do with your saved wealth.” He flashed Saskia a placid smile.

“You ‘ad best be accustomed to wondering, wot? An’ last I ‘eard about it, you were a male… but nobeast ‘as to ask about your ‘ruling passion,’ do they?”

“Hm.” Merritt jingled the coins in his pocket. “‘Least I can afford mine on my salary. And speaking of otherbeasts’ passions and my salary, do you mind horribly if we stay the night? I have some business yet to be done that, well, might best be done after nightfall.”

Saskia sighed. “Not as though you’re asking. I’d wager those otter fellows wot you ‘ired to pull the cart won’t be back until tomorrow morning?”

“I’m sure you can find something to occupy you. Maybe ask Aloysius to read you some poetry. ‘Males, some to business, some to pleasure take–‘ ”

“But every female is at ‘eart a rake,” she cut in, rolling her eyes.

“What do you mean by rake?” a young but scratchy voice asked.

“Oh, Miss Tamarack, I hadn’t seen you there!” Nor had Saskia, absorbed in fending off Merritt’s–Merritt’s–whatever that bally ferret had on his mind.

The vixen had the look of a dibbun with a mouthful of stolen pie. “I saved up like you said I ought to, Mr. Merritt.”

Saskia buried her face in her paws. She teetered on the narrow precipice between moral outrage and sheer nausea.

“I see you have! Well now. That would be about enough for two of these.”

Saskia heard the rustling of papers inside one of Merritt’s boxes. Even without looking, she knew she’d printed them; not because her paws were stained with the ink of all Merritt’s wares–he printed plenty himself–but because the bally perversity of the universe wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What happened to her?” Tamarack asked.

“She talks to Brother Aloysius too much. See anything you like?”

“Let’s see… this one… and this? Aye.”

Control yourself. It’s not as though she’s buying anything you haven’t read. Saskia took a deep breath and uncovered her face. Tamarack tucked two pamphlets into her pocket.

“A pleasure, miss.”

Tamarack grinned, and then suddenly frowned. “Miss Saskia, I was wondering if I could talk to you for just a minute.”

Saskia nodded and stood, wobbling a bit as a sudden spell of lightheadedness came and went. Haven’t eaten, have I? She wasn’t hungry.

The hare looked around for a place within view of the table they could speak without Merritt overhearing. She took two full steps toward the side of the gatehouse before she reconsidered and led Tamarack toward the Abbey proper.

“Wot is it, Tamarack? Never ‘ad you concerned with any of my books.”

“Boring old things. I was thinking maybe you could help with this,” she said, and a paw dove into the pocket that didn’t hold Merritt’s pamphlets, retrieving a cloakpin. “I found it, and I want to know what it is.” A little red gem glittered in the centre of it–Saskia thought it looked remarkably similar to the chip of ruby in her mother’s ring.

“Looks like a Redwall thing, doesn’t it? You could ask Brother Aloysius.”

Tamarack squirmed. “Aye, could do. But everybeast says you have books on all kinds of things. The best books,” she added.

“Flattery won’t work, I’m a bit old to fall for that bally trick,” Saskia muttered. “Also you just called ’em ‘boring’.” She peered at the pin up close.

“Still, can you help?”

Who knows where she got this thing, but I’m supposed safe to ask because… because I come here with Merritt. She tried not to think about it, or about what Aloysius, or her parents, or the Abbot would think. But she’s a little sneak, this one…

“Yes, but only for pay.” The words tumbled out, flat and heavy enough that she half-expected to hear them splat upon hitting the ground.

Tamarack’s head drooped, and she gestured toward the paper in her pocket. “But I spent–”

“I know, but I ‘ave an idea. You can do me a favor.”

“What kind?”

“Well, Mister Merritt ‘as a book ‘idden back in one of those boxes. And if anybeast puts a paw on it, ‘e looks like there are ants down the back of ‘is trousers.”

The vixen’s eyes lit up. “And you want me to go nosing ’round the spine.”

“If you can. It’s a fancy one, red with little bits of gold in the cover. You try to get a good look inside that, and I’ll try to find out about your pin.”

Tamarack stuck out a paw, eyes glittering with mischief. Saskia felt the ground sway beneath her as she shook on the deal. Dipped your paws right in the muck, now, haven’t you?

Merritt stared at Saskia as she returned to their cart.

“No, I won’t tell you.” She paused as a realization dawned far later than necessary. “And why in the name of ‘ellgates would you be quoting that nonsense at me. ‘Ruling passions’ in-bally-deed. You don’t believe any of that.”

He smirked. “No, I don’t find anybeast limited to just the one passion, at the very least. But I think you believe ‘that nonsense.’ That’s why it took you so long to remember I didn’t.”

“I do not!”

“As you please…”

“Oh, you–” Saskia huffed. “Just watch the cart, would you? I’ll be back.” She stomped off in the direction of the Great Hall. Battling Merritt was just like sport in her school days: She hated losing.

Inside the Great Hall, the preparations for the feast had bubbled up and boiled over. All around, beasts scurried from one door to another with ingredients or decorations or prepared food. A gang of Skipper’s otters was moving furniture; Saskia spotted Gabriel among them, who she’d witnessed escaping Merritt unsullied. He caught her eye and favored her with a bright and honest smile; a nod substituted for a wave, since his paws were occupied supporting one of the broad oaken altars that served as banquet tables.

Saskia noticed Ripple slowly navigating the hall, his double-armful of streamers dangling behind him, unduly bright plumage for a beast who mostly preferred to disappear. He looked as though he’d rather be elsewhere, having a few quiet moments with his cards and watercolors.

“Can I ‘elp you?”

Ripple scowled for a second but then reconsidered, nodding gratefully.  Saskia scooped up half the streamers.

“So, um,” the otter began, “what’s yer mum like, anyway?  They gave her awful crummy numbers.”

Saskia laughed.  “I never ‘eard much about wot she did with the Long Patrol, I was still young when she left, she and my pa.”

They both dropped their loads of streamers next to a hedgehog and a squirrel maid, who giggled and gossiped as they tied bows and hung them over doors.  Ripple led Saskia back toward a stairwell.

“Mums are all the same though, bet yours is mostly the same as mine.”

Ripple paused on the bottom step.  “Um.  Sure.  Maybe.”  He took the steps carefully, one at a time and Saskia followed behind him.

“Oh.”  She frowned at his back.  “Something ‘appened.”   

He shrugged.  “She, um, died when I was little.  I’m fine now.  Skipper’s still–”  He waved a paw expressively.

“Were they close, then?”

“Well, yeah…  Oh.  Sorry.  Skipper’s my dad.”

“Ah.  That explains…” …rather a lot, actually… “…why ‘e’d still be upset.”

“I guess.  Um.  I don’t know who to ask.  I found someth–” He paused.  “I guess it’s not important.”  Ripple stumbled over a step and Saskia moved to catch him, but he righted himself and leaned against the wall.  “Say, yer from the outside.  I been wonderin’, do beasts out there know about the lockdown?”

“Somebeasts do.  It’s–it’s like a rumor, is wot it is.  Everybeast saying something or other and ‘alf of them don’t ‘ave their stories the right way ’round.”

Ripple kept climbing.  He limped more heavily, and fidgeted with the collar of his habit.   “Ah.”

“I don’t…” Saskia cringed.  Something was wrong, and she’d done it.  “I’m.  I’m sorry about your mum,” she mumbled.   

“Uh, it’s fine, really… Do they know there’s no letters goin’ out?”

“Huh?  Er, I’m not sure.”

Ripple frowned, and turned down a hallway, Saskia still trailing behind him like a lightning-struck kite.

Saskia decided to fill the silence as Ripple opened a closet door.  “Somebeasts don’t like it much, ‘ow the Abbot decided ‘e could keep all of you in ‘ere.”

“Aye.  An’ I’m one of ’em.” He paused. “Well, I don’t mind the stayin’ in part.  But not sendin’ letters is stupid. I don’t mean no disrespect, but I can’t even play my game.  Only beast interested is Virrel, an’ I’m not allowed near him anymore…  an’ Foweller, an’ he probably hates me now…”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”  Saskia laid a paw on the otter’s shoulder.  He glared ineffectually at a shelf of streamers above his head.  “I’ll get those.”  As she reached up, she noticed a stain on Ripple’s collar, just where her paw had been.  No, nothing on my paw.

As they descended, she pondered his words.  Couldn’t hurt.  “If you’re serious about that whole… ‘not liking the Abbot keeping you inside’ bit, ask Brother Aloysius for the book I gave ‘im.  Not Moral Essays, the other one.  That beast is one of the ones who’s wondering what’s going on ‘ere.”

Ripple nodded, whether in agreement or dismissal she couldn’t tell.

“And I’ll try to keep Merritt from… bothering you too much, if you like?”   

“Botherin’? He, uh… only sold me cards… that’s not a bother at all.”

“Good.”

Burn After Reading

May 24, 2011

Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.

“Aloysius, as always a pleasure.”  Merritt grinned.

“About so much a pleasure as ever, ever,” the bat replied, half-fluttering out of the way as Merritt tugged a heavy wooden trunk down from the back of the cart.  “Good morning, Saskia.  I hope the journey found you well?”

Saskia nodded.  “Oh, I’ve got the edition of Moral Essays you wanted, just here.  I ‘ad to correct the Cobham sections myself, nobeast else ‘ad it in print.”  She reached behind a crate of dubious provenance–one of Merritt’s–and plucked the handsomely-bound volume out of her own boxful of previous orders and passed it to the bat.  Aloysius wasn’t a very profitable customer, but if she could pick up a few marks here and there, all the better.

Merritt leaned in.  “And if ever you get tired of moral essays–”

“I’m bally well certain ‘e knows where to find you.  Aloysius, I’ll be along shortly with your other book.  Need to talk to you, too.”  Saskia hefted a trunk full of Merritt’s ridiculous trinkets–some complicated game or other with printed bits–absurd, but apparently financial alchemy.  Merritt raved about it turning ink into gold.

“I’ll wait for you in the gatehouse, I have some copying to do, copying to do.”  The bat trundled off, and Saskia turned back to unloading the cart.

Merritt had finished with his own wares, and both of them reached for the last box at the same moment, the ferret getting a grip on it first.  As he lifted it, a book tumbled down, striking Saskia in the chest.  She caught it, and examined the cover.  Its binder hadn’t bothered to grace it with a title, yet it was of the finest quality, morocco with a bit of gold tooling–

Merritt snatched it from her paws.  “Now, now, best not let a delicate lady such as yourself look through that.”  He winked, but Saskia kept her eyes on his–the usual sunny mischief in his expression had been occluded by something less comforting.  Merritt flicked his wrist and sent the gilt-covered book flying into one of his crates of less-than-savory wares.  It landed like a one-legged raven, tilted and crimped.

“Shouldn’t keep the fair Brother waiting.  I can set everything up while you talk to him,” Merritt said, and he handed Saskia the other book Aloysius had ordered, a draft copy of some philosophical treatise on rightful government.  It had been the first text she’d enjoyed typesetting for Sheridan in what felt like months.

Saskia glared at Merritt.  He smiled back, book in paw.

“Fine.”  She snatched the volume and strode off toward the gatehouse, casting a glance behind her and seeing Merritt retrieve the gilt-covered book he’d thrown.

She knocked on the gatehouse door.  “Come in!”

Saskia entered the gatehouse.  Paper covered every flat surface, looking as though somebeast with a careful and stubborn heart had taken it upon himself to sort and stack the autumn leaves.  It had much the same musty smell as autumn too, the smell of cinnamon and ditchwater characteristic of ancient books.

“Thank you for bringing these.  You can leave the other…” Aloysius paused to scan the room. “Oh, on top of this stack would serve well, serve well.  My apologies for the mess, Miss Saskia.”

“Not at all.  I’d ‘oped to ask you whether y’think we should be printing a new edition of Moral Essays.”  Saskia happened to glance out of Aloysius’ narrow window and realized she could see Merritt.  She perched herself on the edge of the desk as a vantage point, half-sitting and half-leaning, her back mostly to the bat.  A pile of loose papers shifted, but Aloysius halted the avalanche with an outstretched wing-tip.

“I should advise you, I would think, that I am hardly qualified to offer business advice, miss.”

“Rather, but per’aps you could at least offer some judgment on the work for itself?”

Outside, Merritt conversed with a tall otter who almost matched the ferret in manic energy, constantly shifting weight.  Saskia remembered him, faintly, from a previous visit–Gabriel, was it?   Merritt dug through a box.

Aloysius scratched his head with a claw.  “I hardly know where to begin, to begin. It is a fine work, to be certain, but I could not say if you would profit from its printing.”

“If it’s a work of merit, Sheridan could be convinced.”

Gabriel shook his head at whatever Merritt was brandishing, giving it hardly a glance.  Good for him.

“Sheridan always struck me as a fine gentlebeast, gentlebeast.”

Saskia tried not to snort.  ” ‘e’s got a unique taste, true, and much of wot we print wouldn’t be printed elsewhere.”  Because it’s bally rubbish.

“He does a fine service to us here, that is for certain.  Though I do wish your coming to Redwall so often was not at the cost of…”

Aloysius looked out the window as well.  Gabriel still stood across from Merritt, who swayed like a willow in a stiff wind as he spoke.  Gabriel laughed, and that sound penetrated even the gatehouse walls.

Saskia shifted and slipped off the edge of the desk, taking a sheaf of paper with her.  Aloysius fumbled for it as it slid to the floor.  “Oh, sorry!”

“I have been reorganizing the archives, I’m afraid, I’m afraid,” he explained.

“Ah.  As I ‘ad been about t’ say, some things…”

Saskia looked outside.  Gabriel nodded assent to something Merritt had said, and then walked away.  He wasn’t carrying anything.

“…some things, well, they may be regrettable, but they can’t often be ‘elped.”  Saskia felt as though she were back at school.  Aloysius was the strict schoolmarm to whom she offered answers only as half-questions, fearing disapproval.

Aloysius looked down at the papers he held, shaking his head.  “Perhaps.”  He sat the papers atop their stack.  “Was there anything else, miss?”

Saskia kept her gaze fixed on Merritt; she saw a young otter step up, a heavy limp marring his stride.  Probably after those cards, but…

“No, no, Brother, I really ought t’ be on my way, wot!  So I’ll just, I’ll be going along, then.”

“Mmmm.  Fare you well, you well.”  He bowed slightly, as far as the size of his wings would allow in the cramped space.  Serenity, if not a smile, had crept back into his expression.

“Thank you.”

Saskia approached warily.  Merritt had sat down on a crate, all the better to be at eye level with his customer.  Saskia might’ve called it his “gale-force” sales pitch.  The young otter was half turned away from Merritt, and shielding his eyes from the sun with one paw.

“Well, Mister Ripple, I do happen to have a set of new watercolors–which, since these are the newest cards, just came out–”

“Um, Fourth Edition?”  Ripple’s eyes lit up.

“Yes, just got them printed last week!  And I can get you a package deal on the watercolors, ten pennies off the whole price if you throw in the new map for three pennies.  Should be plenty of colors for sprucing up all these cards and the map besides!”

Saskia watched.  I’d wager a month’s wages that ten-penny discount is about as mythical as the Ribbajack.  She spoke up.  “‘ere, lad, don’t let this ‘uckster take your whole allowance.”

Ripple looked at his own paws.  Merritt scowled, and stared at Saskia.  “Oh, Ripple.  This is Saskia.  She has some books of moral poetry that I’m absolutely certain would interest a lively young fellow such as yourself.”  He drummed his claws on the side of the crate idly, head cocked to the side as though in dreamy contemplation of a cloud.  “Or perhaps not.”

“Well, can’t blame me for trying to wrest ‘im from your claws.”

“Ah, well, you’re Aloysius’ favorite and I get everybeast else.  Seems fair.”  He turned back to Ripple, while Saskia sat down on a crate beside his.  “Speaking of fair, I do have a Sunflash the Mace, Second Edition, which I believe you said you were in the market for?”

Ripple grinned.  “Ye remembered!”

Merritt dug through his box of game cards.  “Ah, yes, here it is.”  He held it out to Ripple, who cradled it in his paws.  Saskia thought the little otter might be shaking in awe, but maybe it was a breeze stirring the card.  It was beautifully painted, she had to admit.  “I might be convinced to throw in a Rosalie, First Lieutenant, if you like.”

Ripple snorted.  “I wouldn’ be payin’ fer it, that’s fer sure.”

“Merritt, you bally–” Saskia hissed.  Ripple gave them an uncertain look, as though he wanted mostly to flee but was held transfixed by the promise of cards.  “That’d be my mum,” Saskia said.  Ripple cringed.

“Oh, wow, yer mum’s a Long Patrol hare?” he asked weakly.

“Less interesting than it sounds, don’cha know.”

Merritt cut in. “Yes, yes, I’m very touched–”

“Yes, I’d say you’re pretty touched,” Saskia stage-whispered.  Ripple hid a grin with his paw.

“–but, anyhow.  The Sunflash is twenty, and fifteen for the new starter species, five for their weapons, three for the river map, plus sixty for the watercolors.”

“Thought you were giving ‘im a discount on the watercolors, wot?”

Merritt forced a smile.  “Right you are.  Fifty, my mistake.”

Ripple counted out his coins.

Saskia

April 21, 2011

Female Hare

“Capital B.  E, L…” Saskia muttered, inkstained paws darting into nooks in the wooden tray she held and plucking out little nibs of tin, setting them into the rack.  Her morning had been occupied with arranging seven freshly-ordered rolls of paper in the storeroom.  Mister Sheridan, her employer, had arranged to be absent for the delivery, citing some business about a “poet of some renown” the next town over.  Naturally.

Letters snapped into place, one by one, her paws connecting each click to the next almost rapidly enough to render the sound a constant rattle.  Saskia needed a spare hour that afternoon, and the delivery had disturbed her schedule.

The bell above the door gave a chipper tinkle and she glowered at it before turning to the newcomer across the counter, hastily erasing the frown and replacing it with a placid not-quite-smile Sheridan would be proud of.  A short ferret stood in the doorway; he doffed his feathered hat and half-bowed.

Saskia huffed, and replaced her frown.  “Merritt, you bally idiot, ‘ow many times ‘ave I told you to never, ever, under any circumstance whatsoever, come ‘ere durin’ working hours?  If Sheridan comes back–”

“D’lighted t’ see you too, miss.  I do so happen to have encountered your charming employer across town, at the Silver Anchor.  He complimented my hat before proceedin’ to make an ‘onest try at coverin’ my boots in what was–if I’m not mistaken–about half a bottle of last year’s house sherry.”

Saskia grimaced and returned to setting type as she spoke.  “Then wot’s your business?  I’m behind schedule.”

“Business indeed.  Fifteen pages, a hundred copies, three days, totaling ten silver pieces, at our usual rate?  Not the sort of thing that could be done over a counter, more’s the pity.”

“And when”–she paused to spell ‘adamantine’–“‘ave you done anything above a counter?  Is this’n dodgy politics, or pornography, or is it gen’ral criminal-bleedin’-enterprise?”

Merritt sniffed.  “Do you care?  If you’re getting scruples from reading that nonsense, I’d do well to be rid of you, dearie.”

Saskia had softened her glare for a moment, but the ferret had obligingly reminded her of it.  “No.”  She finished setting her page and laid it on the counter.

“Still perfectly pleased to offer you the chance to work in my shop full-time, y’know.”

“If I could be seen with you in public, that’d be a temptin’ offer, wot?”

“And me a perfectly respectable tradesbeast, too,” Merritt clucked.

“You know,” she growled, “Wot I meant.”

“If ever you tire of hiding from Sheridan whatever it is you need the spare gold for, keep it in mind, Saskia.  Or if he lets so many clients drink him under the table he ends up in debtor’s prison and you on the street.”  Merritt smirked as though he’d deployed some high-society bon mot.

“Get out, you bally… awful… creature.”  Saskia winced.  “You’ll ‘ave your pages Friday.”

” ‘Bally awful’ goldmine, you mean.  And indifferent to how you’re spending all these shiny, shiny coins on opium or frilly dresses or what-have-you, too.”

“Out.”

The ferret bowed again and left, the bell jingling as he swept out.

Saskia wouldn’t admit to being tempted… but all the same, Merritt would make a nice change from sneaking about under Sheridan’s pointy nose.  If she could stomach the dodgy dealing.  Well….

Saskia began her next page.  It was some book of right terrifying “moral poetry” that didn’t even rhyme properly.

She planned to offer Merritt a typesetter’s job in her own shop, and see how he’d like it.  Eventually.