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Nevin glanced quickly around the room. To his supprise it looked rather well kept. The floor was swept and free of dust. Dishes and utensils were sparkly clean and neatly stowed or hung on their respective shelves and pegs.

He ran his finger across the top of the little wooden table where she took her meals. It was crumb and clutter free except for an unmarked potion bottle sitting in the middle of it. It was obvious the girl had wiped away all stains and spills, mayhap even applying a bit of polish to the oak.

Nevin shrugged. Perhaps there’s some hope for the lass. Mayhap I’ve been pushing her too hard. After all, re-thatching the roof is a job for a man. Hanging shutters also. It’d be unfair to get after her about it. I’ll post a note on the board in Foothold. Surely I’ll find someone who’s anxious for a bit of work. But I will have a talk with her about the state of that garden! That’s entirely her responsibility!

He called out to her. “Cat? Catani? I’ve come to review your studies! Where are you girl? We’ve not much time. The sun’s already past its zenith!”

There was no answer. The old man sighed. She’d probably run off on an errand, he thought. She’d be back shortly. He was sure of that. The girl never missed a lesson, he’d give her that much.

He ambled over to a bookcase she’d placed against the wall adjacent to her table. Even though the room was well lit the old man had to squint as he began checking the titles of the works she’d collected over the last few months of study.

I’m getting too old for this business, he thought to himself. Years of reading had worn out his eyes. Years of teaching had worn thin his patience and years of trudging around in the godforsaken wilderness had taken its toll on whatever else was left of him. He shook his head. I’ve nothing more to give, he muttered to himself. She’ll be the last one I teach. I’ll pay a visit to the Mages Guild in Stonemark first thing tomorrow and turn in my retirement papers.

He started on the first shelf. Hmm, now let me see. Spell Crafting Made Easy by Vana Doolendoffer, and then, The Complete Unabridged Guide to the Art of Making Magic. The author none other than Dame Jana Olsen herself! Exalted Wizard and High Priestess of the Stonemark Mages Guild. Oh! I know this book well, the old man exclaimed. A fine tome it is! I’ve memorized most of the passages over the years. He noticed the spine was not cracked. A cracked and worn spine meant a book had been read or at least opened now and then. It was obvious the girl had not touched it.

He shook his head in frustration and moved along the shelf. The next book in line was titled Scribing 101. Author anonymous. It stood next to Three E-Z Steps to Becoming a Powerful Wizard. That one published by the Lumpkin Mail Order Learning Center. He’d never heard of them. It in turn, was resting against another book titled Magic for Dummies. The old man rolled his eyes, shook his head and moved on to the last book on the shelf. It was the first one he’d come across that looked as though someone had actually been reading it. The cover was so badly worn the print on it was no longer legible. Nevin removed it from its place on the shelf, carefully cracked it open and leafed to the title page.

It read, The Lurid Tales of the Duke and his Bluestockinged Mistress. Nevin gasped and his heart skipped a beat or two. The poor man almost dropped the book on the floor. Bluestockinged mis . . . what? He turned a page and read a few lines. Oh! Oh my, he thought. This is scandalous! And indecent! Lewd and bawdy too! This is why the girl is slow to learn, he mused. She chooses this drivel to read rather than her text books. Well, we’ll see about this.

Nevin began to return the book to its place of rest upon the shelf but paused and thought about it for a long moment. Instead, with a quick motion he made the book disappear beneath his robe. He made his way over to the tiny table Catani used for her meals and sat down. The old man was prepared to wait forever if necessary, for this pariah of a child who had a preference for trashy novels rather than textbooks, to return.

There’s no use in sitting here twiddling my thumbs, he thought to himself. He took another look around the room. Satisfied the girl wasn’t hiding in some corner peeking out at him he retrieved The Lurid Tales of the Duke and his Bluestockinged Mistress from under his robe. He glanced quickly at the preface and scanned the acknowledgements, wondering whether he’d see a name or two he might recognize, and started in on the first chapter.