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Excerpt from The Raven's SealExcerpt from The Raven's Seal
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THE SARACEN'S SHIELD, under the ferocious sign of a moon-shield and scimitar, balanced on the edge of the Pentlow in Calderhithe, and seemed to have a mind to get into the river altogether, as though to wash off the taint of its patrons, extending a set of rooms over green and rickety pilings. Here, the quality of Airenchester paused to carouse with the lower orders, though it is hard to say who gained the greater profit thereby.

The long tables were full, coins rattled, and tankards struck the benches; and in the corners, certain figures bent to their business and none came near. Mr. Grainger and Mr. Quillby had a settle by the fire and were pretty pleased with themselves at this discovery.

"You left the Stepneys' ball early," observed Quillby.

"It was becoming intolerable," said Grainger. "All flirting and convention. I would be free of that, at least."

"There were no compensations for attending?"

"I saw Piers Massingham in a superior mood and gave him no satisfaction. There is some reward in that, I suppose."

Quillby frowned. "You will bait him too much one day. He is ambitious and ill-tempered. I hear he has drawn blood in quarrels before this."

Grainger dismissed this with a wave of his hand.

"I thought, perhaps, she was there?" continued William Quillby, after a moment's reflection.

"My dear fellow, who do you mean? Are you looking for topics for the society pages? I could supply you a scandal or two."

"Obliged, I'm sure, but you know quite well I mean Clara."

Grainger raised his cup and addressed it rather than his companion. "Miss Grimsborough was there."

"And how was she?"

"She looked quite fetching, not entirely fashionable, but charming."

Quillby allowed himself a sigh, lost in the hubbub of the room. He accounted himself an admirer of Miss Grimsborough's, but no suitor. "How an angel like that has such an Ogre and a Terror for a father, I don't know." Captain Matthew Grimsborough, the young lady's father, was master of the city watch, a dour, unyielding man, and the bane and perplexity of his daughter's admirers.

"But I have no name, and few prospects, to offer her," Quillby finished, downcast.

Grainger looked aside at his friend and said, "You know more about this town, high and low, than anyone—which I esteem, if no other will."

"That is all very well for you to say," said William, without rancour. "But I have no property to draw on."

Grainger prepared to speak some further encouragement when he checked himself.

The street door had opened, and a girl came in. She was simply dressed and alone. The heat in the Saracen was fierce, and she let fall her shawl to her shoulders. A very fine profile, Grainger thought. The strong line in the cheek, the nose, the firm chin, the pleasing mouth, held his attention. She looked around. Grainger saw the set cast of her face: determined and undaunted.

"My dear fellow," he said instead, "can you pass the bottle?"

The girl pushed through the crowd towards an open booth at the other end of the common room. A collection of low, suspect men lounged around a table on which were spread copper coins, tankards, clay cups, pipes, tobacco, and an unsheathed knife. Thick smoke stirred about them. She stopped behind a narrow-shouldered boy.

The bottle was set in his hand, but Grainger put it down.

The girl touched the boy on the shoulder and said something. He shook her off and did not look up. She tapped him the shoulder again, and he looked around. She spoke and gestured. He scowled and shrugged. The girl arched up, a flicker of anger in her eyes. She gestured again, towards the hill. A man at the table laughed and shook his hand at the boy. The girl folded her arms. Slowly, the boy yielded and stood from the bench.

"Say," asked Grainger, "who is that girl there?"

"Which girl?"

Grainger leaned forward and pointed. "That fine, angry girl, there, with that surly lad."

Quillby squinted at the shadows of the common-room. "I don't know her. I can't say if she has ever been here before."

"But what is her name?" Grainger persisted.

"How the devil should I know?" Quillby drank and put his cup down. "The boy is often here." He lowered his voice, and Grainger leaned closer to catch him. "He runs errands and trails after Dirk Tallow's crew."

Grainger caught the arm of the pot-boy.

"Another bottle, sir?" said the alert servant.

"Presently. Who is that girl there?"

"A girl, sir?"

"Thaddeus," said Quillby, as though calling him away.

"That girl," persisted Grainger. "Look there. She is marvelously angry!"

"Don't know her," concluded the pot-boy.

"The young fellow, then, with her."

"That! That's just Silas Redruth's lad, Toby."

"Thank you."

"And that bottle, sir?"

"Get on!"

The girl and the boy were leaving. Near the door, the girl rested a hand lightly on the boy's head in a gesture more tender than impatient.

"As I thought," said William, hasty to conclude. "But the girl, I think, is decent enough. What can you want with her?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all. Yet, she's an extraordinary creature."

"Surely you have no thoughts of her?"

"None. Not a thought in the world. I have not seen her before. It is the slightest thing. No matter at all. She is leaving."

Grainger turned to the cup and the dark green bottle, poured a fresh measure, and eased closer to the fire.