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Dave Duncan

- The Pearl in a Grain of Sand

Book Excerpts
- Paragon Lost

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- Paragon Lost

Paragon Lost (Book Excerpt)
         by Dave Duncan
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Chapter One

At Gossips' Corner

"Isabelle!" Mistress Snider screeched. "Are you deaf?"

Isabelle was not deaf, but she would have had good cause to be, working in this kitchen. On one side of her Nel was chopping up salt pork with a hatchet, on the other Ed pounded dried fish with a mallet -- it took hours of pounding and soaking to make it even close to edible. At her back, Lackwit was powdering salt just as loudly. Lids danced and clattered on boiling pots, the pump handle squeaked, drudges were rattling sea coal into the great brick ovens and raking out ashes. The door, left open to admit cool air and flies, led to the stable yard where the farrier was shoeing a horse. Deaf? Not at all.

"And what're you doing with all that cinnamon?" The old harpy waxed louder and shriller. Mistress Snider was tall and stooped, tapering from grotesquely wide hips up to a small, mean face shriveled around a beak nose.

"I am making a dipping sauce as you told me to!" Isabelle shouted back. "Cameline sauce, with ginger and raisins and nuts, with cinnamon and pepper, but how you expect me to do it with no cloves, no cardamon -- "

"Not so much cinnamon! You think we're made of money here? Stale bread and vinegar, that's what makes a sauce, girl. Use up some of those herbs before they rot completely. A man wants you! A gentleman is asking for your husband." The old horror canted her head to peer at Isabelle with one glittery eye, oozing dislike. "And be quick back. I need that sauce done right. And soon!"

With difficulty, Isabelle held back some truths as unpalatable as Mistress Snider's food. The woman skimped ridiculously, but all Chivians tried to get by with inferior ingredients smothered in peppery sauces. In Isilond, one began with a good piece of meat and used only enough seasoning to bring out its natural flavor. She wiped her hands on her apron.

"Yes, mistress."

"He's waiting in the King's Room. You hurry back. Don't expect me to pay you when you're not working."

No, Isabelle would be paying her for the privilege of speaking with a potential client. She set off on the perilous trek to the door, watching out for scavenging dogs and people hurrying with hot pans, for her balance was not as certain as it used to be. Fortunately, the baby never made her nauseated, although she lived in that horrible kitchen from before dawn until after nightfall. She had nightmares of giving birth there. But a gentleman looking for Beau might mean a client and real wages, instead of the pittance he earned in the yard by day and serving beer at night.

Leaving the reek of boiling cabbage, she went into the big taproom with its smoky fog of yeast, people, and cheap candles. Gossips' Corner was, first and last, a tavern, where beer flowed like water -- "and for good reason," Beau said. Located in the heart of Grandon, not far from Greymere Palace, Gossips' Corner was a universally recognized address for people to rendezvous or leave messages or even dine, although Isabelle could never understand why anyone who had any choice should choose to do that. It offered rooms by the night or the week or the hour -- she and Beau lived there, in a garret five floors up. It provided music and singing and gambling. Those who sought to buy a horse, hire a servant, pick pockets, or contract odd jobs could usually be accommodated.

The City Watch, bought off by Master Snider, turned blind eyes to shadier services: girl or boy companions in the rooms, sinister conjurations not offered by honest elementaries, recovery of recently stolen goods, collection of debts, or other forms of assault. Today the taproom was as noisy as the kitchen, with a dozen carpenters competing in hammering. Riots were commonplace in Gossips' Corner, but last week's had been unusually vigorous, climaxing in a party of public-spirited Baelish sailors attempting to burn the place down.

Copyright© 2002, HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This excerpt has been provided by HarperCollins and printed with their permission.

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