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"Suppose," said Zedigol persuasively, "you could take the Most Reverend Katassin up on the hill where you throw the bodies of dead slaves for the crows to pick, and show him what remains of a poor gangling fellow with black hair, after a week or so of the crows and the sun, and tell him--oh, so sadly--that his favorite slave was caught under a runaway block of stone? That happens here too sometimes, doesn't it?"
The master barked a short laugh.
"Of course," said Zedigol thoughtfully, "there are other tall thin slaves here with black hair, and they too must die some day. Some are likely sickening now, already longing for death and not of much use anymore. I rather think the Most Reverend Katassin would not come back every month to put your overworked guards to the effort of beating any other, nor of pulling them up so he could spit in their faces."
The quarry-master grimaced.
"A strange whim for a High Priest," commented Zedigol. "I believe Prince Alkar considers it unhealthy. And so, you see, it might be better for the slave to--ah--die."
Their eyes met in complete understanding.
The quarry-master stood up and shouted, and one of the guards came in.
"Trok, fetch us wine," ordered the master, "and tell Hezzar to bring up that miserable hulk Rocco."
The guard saluted and vanished. The wine and bowls were quickly forthcoming, and while they waited for the second delivery Zedigol raised his cup to the master.
"To your good health and prosperity," he said. "You are such a pleasant fellow, and so intelligent. A pity you are also absent-minded."
"It's a sad thing," grinned the master. "Why, sir, I can't remember everlaying eyes on you."
Zedigol's soft voice took on an edge: "But you will remember, for a little longer, that this slave--Rocco?--is about to have an accident--a quite fatal accident, that just happens to smash his face."
"Trust me, sir."
"I do--oh, I do."
They sipped their wine in complete accord, and Zedigol praised it highly, urging the master to a discussion of liquors and whether the vintages of Tay in the neighboring Empire of Glay were superior to the products of Zenia in Athia. And had the master tasted Korusco's own wine from Taskada, down in the hills past Trubelar? or, said Zedigol, rolling his own present drink over his tongue appreciatively, that new distilled wine which the seamen brought from the Islands of Sillet?
The master shook his head with regret. "Most of these are beyond the purses of common folk like me, sir."
"A pity, you being such an excellent fellow," sighed Zedigol. "Perhaps--perhaps since you have no memories to solace you, I will ask Prince Alkar to send a sample of each, so you can decide for yourself which is best. Not more than a barrel, for you, I can see, are an abstemious man--" The master rubbed his red-veined nose and ducked his head modestly. "I will not lead you astray. And the distilled wine from Sillet will be in a quite small keg, but do not let that mislead you. Be careful of it. It is very potent, the essence of wine indeed."
The quarry-master licked his lips.
"And never, never drink with the Most Reverend Katassin. Wine has a way of releasing memories--"
"Small chance," said the master contemptuously. "When he comes, it's drink for the Prince and himself only. I'm a dog that rounds up his sheep, and not fit to drink with."
"His lamb, his little black lamb," chuckled Zedigol. "And here is the lamb now, I think."
A second guard led in the gaunt slave with the black hair, clad only in a dirty loincloth, pouring with sweat and begrimed with the white quarry dust.
"Phew!" exclaimed Zedigol. "He stinks!"
"They all do at close range," shrugged the quarry-master.
"Ah, well, who serves Prince Alkar must perform difficult tasks at times. Yet do you think, my friend, that you might take him outside and pour a little water over him? and then bring him to the carriage at the gates--perhaps throw an old cloak around him so that curious people would not notice so much--"
"Drive away, down the road and around the grove," said the master. "Hezzar will bring him there."
"Hezzar? You look like a trustworthy fellow," remarked Zedigol, rising. He brought out another purse and tossed it carelessly on the table. "Let Hezzar drink my health, and the other guard--Trok?--also. And recompense yourself for the cloak."
The slave Rocco took all this in with sunken black eyes that burned through his tangled hair, looking from one to the other tensely. When Hezzar would have led him away, he resisted.
"I go with a Fire Priest?" he growled hoarsely. "Kill me first!"
Zedigol cocked his head up at the tall slave.
"You don't like my garment?" he asked sweetly. "You know," to the quarry-master, "I think this man is unaware that I serve Prince Alkar."
The slave glowered at him suspiciously.
"Prince Alkar," repeated Zedigol. "It is no more than coincidence--well, not much more--that I wear the same color as the Most Reverend Katassin. Now do go, like a good fellow, and don't be difficult."
Rocco stared at him hard for a moment. With a lift of his shoulders, he turned and went out after Hezzar. Zedigol bade the quarry-master a fond farewell, mentioning the wines again tactfully, and got back into the carriage, instructing Bargon to drive away. As the groom swung the vehicle away from the gate, Zedigol leaned back on the seat and laughed and laughed and laughed.