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Left alone in the meadow, Aerin became conscious that Shade was rubbing round and around her legs, as though to comfort her. The Shadowcat was growing; it was lready higher that her knees at his shoulder.

Her shoulders sagged as the others went inside. This hadn't gone well. And somehow she had the feeling the unpleasantness wasn't over yet.

"Find father," Aerin half whispered, looking down at Shade. She slid down to the ground, sitting on the field grass as she put an arm around Shade and rubbed her cheek in his fur.

"This is all wrong," she said. "I don't think we helped at all."

Shade butted against her face as though to express, whatever happened, she could count on his support. As long as there was fish somewhere in the equation, of course.

Aerin sat there for a long time on the meadow grass, taking comfort in Shade's attention.

"Nothing's going to be the same," she finally said. Aerin pulled the blue bottle from her pocket, looked at the glassy highlights as it rested in her hand. "And I'm not sure finding this even made a difference," she sighed.

Slowly she put the bottle back in her pocket. "I guess I need to find father and tell him," she told Shade with a confiding tone. "And then I think I'll go see the Septa. Just in case."

She tilted her head and looked at Shade. "Do you want to come? Or stay out here? I'll find you when I'm done if that's what you want," she told the giant ginger feline, running a hand though his neck fur.

Shade rose beside her and stretched. Clearly, he intended to accompany her - perhaps as a reward for the fish. Or perhaps because he enjoyed unnerving the denizens of the castle with his presence.

They found Tomas Prinksett in the training yard, where he was instructing a group of the younger guards in quarterstaff training. Strioped his shirt, the grizzled man was demonstrating the strokes and twists; he might be aging, but he was limber and wily; not one of them was able to get past his guard, though two came closer.

When he saw Aerin, he noddded to her and then made his students break into pairs to fight each other before walking across to his daughter, mopping his reddned face on a ragged tower.

"Well, mistress?" he said, smiling. "What brings my headstrong here?"

Aerin gave her father a troubled look. "His lordship has sent for you. He's in his office."

She glanced around, making sure no one was nearby. "Ranulf had confessed," she said softly. "But the Septa is supposed to take the vows of the sisters, and I don't know if his lordship will let her go free!" she said to her father.

"All right," he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. "All right. Steady, my girl. Bear yourself like a Prinksett." He was silent for a moment, considering.

Aerin tried to steel herself. But it was hard trying to stay focused as her father thought.

"You're sure of this?" he said at last. "It's not just some tale to help the Septa?"

"I found the bottle in the meadow below the Lady's quarters," Aerin explained, pulling out the blue bottle and showing it to her father. "And Derron Thorne told Niko and I Ranulf had confessed. And... Lord Draupaud already knew! I was there when he asked Derron if Ranulf had confessed. And the boy was right there, too!"

Tomas Prinksett sighed. "Poor boy," he said compassionately. "Well, we had best see what's to be done. You said he's in his office?" He waved across the Sargeant, and gave him quick instructions for the training session before beckoning his daughter.

"Come," he said.

"I didn't know whether or not to tell the Lord about the bottle," she told her father as she walked along next to him. "I mean, it's not the Septa's bottle. I know that for certain. And the bottle smells like almonds. And Niko said there was a smell of almonds around the lady."

Tomas Prinksett hesitated. "Let's see first what he wishes to do about the Septa," he said.

They were come to the door of the Lord's office now, and the Captain of the Guard knocked.

Page last modified on May 23, 2006, at 02:20 PM