... but Clever was never to find out what she wanted. In her eagerness to know, she pressed on the door till it gave way, fell open, and spilled her into the presence of her benefactors.

They looked not surprised.

"Oh-ho," Vixen laughed without humor, "a spy. She thinks to steal secrets." And the Hunted tucked out of sight her redundant tails.

"No, no. A smart girl," praised Dog-Head without warmth. "A smart girl will know that for every unit of knowledge acquired, the Learner must pay."

"I wonder," mused Vixen, "does she know the cost is often greater than its learning."

Clever kneeled. Her heart beat frightfully, but her manner stayed bold. "You would tax a Beggar."

"Stout-hearted youngling," said Vixen in a dry humor. "Over-earnest."

“No, no. A cunning girl,” said the Hunter. “A cunning girl will know to negotiate the Learner’s price.”

Clever breathed deeply, summoned courage. "Learning in the Wide World is an uncertain venture. Many in the business of teaching are untrue. Every enterprise has a ruffian with her hand out for a toll. Every guild has a scoundrel who levees a tariff of his own invention. I am a Learner. But how may I trust you not to be ruffians and scoundrels?"

”You will pay regardless,” sniffed Vixen.

And they told their Story …


recede / advance