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Chapter 3

Azzie found Mother Joanna setting up the little tent she carried with her on pilgrimages. It was of bleached cotton dyed green, so it blended in nicely with the forest. It had bamboo staves to give it shape, and a variety of ropes with which to tie it down. Joanna was wrestling with the ropes now. During the trip they had gotten themselves into a tangle, and now they formed a mass the size of a goat's head — and just as obstinate.

"It's the Devil's own job, untangling this knot," she declared.

"Why, then, better let me have a go at it," Azzie said cheerfully.

She handed him the tangle of ropes. Azzie held up his left forefinger and blew on it; his forefinger turned a bright canary yellow, all except the fingernail, which extended itself into a steel-colored talon. Azzie tapped the knot with his talon, and a green nimbus of fire danced around it for a moment. When it died away, he tossed the bundle of ropes back to Mother Joanna. She tried to catch it, but the ropes flew apart before they reached her. She bent down and picked up the ropes that had just a moment ago been irrevocably tied into a knot to rival the Gordian.

"How on Earth…" she began.

"A fakir's trick, learned in an Oriental bazaar," Azzie said, grinning at her. She stared at him, and saw the tiny red flames dancing in his eyes. She was relieved when Azzie walked off, whistling.

Later that evening, the pilgrims were gathered around the fire; all were there except Azzie, who had declared his intention of taking a stroll in the woods to relax before bedtime. Oliver and Mother Joanna sat a little apart from the others; there was no doubt at all what they were going to talk about.

"The new fellow," Oliver said. "What do you think of him?"

"He fair puts the wind up me," the abbess said, reverting to an expression of her childhood nanny.

"Yes," Oliver agreed. "There's something uncanny about him, wouldn't you say?"

"Indeed I would. In fact, just an hour ago, I had a little encounter with him that has left me thinking."

"So did I!" said Sir Oliver. "When I had trouble starting the fire, Sir Antonio did it himself—with his forefinger."

"His forefinger and what else?" asked Joanna.

"Nothing else. He pointed it, and flames sprang up. He said it was an old fakir trick he learned in the Orient. But I say it looked like witchcraft."

Mother Joanna stared at him for a moment, then told of her experience with Azzie and the knot.

"It's not normal," Oliver said.

"No. It most certainly is not."

"And it's not some Oriental fakir's trick, either."

"That it is not," Mother Joanna said. "Furthermore, he has little red lights in his eyes. Did you notice that?"

"How could I overlook it?" Oliver said. "It is a devil mark, is it not?"

"That it is," Mother Joanna said. "I've read it in the Handbook for Exorcising Demons."

Just then Azzie reappeared from the forest, whistling merrily. Over his shoulder he carried a young deer.

"I would be pleased if you'd let me provide tonight's dinner," Azzie said. "Perhaps one of your varlets could cut up this noble beast and roast him for us? I am going to take a bath in yonder brook. Running down a deer is sweaty work." And he took himself off, whistling as he went.


Chapter 2 | A Farce To Be Reckoned With | Chapter 4







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