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“Crane wants you working up trays.” Osprey pointed to the table at the tiled wall, between the open cabinets. A large slate hung there with a detailed list of instructions written in chalk. On the table was a stepped rack of thin bottles. Each bottle sported a paper label; seven also bore a string from which a numbered paper tag hung.

“You’ll get your trays here, once the blue pox is added.” She went to the open cabinet at their right, between the table and the doorway to the outer workroom. “Always keep the trays level”—very carefully she lifted one from the shelf—”because if you tilt them, blue pox will drip out. That is bad.”

“Lakik, yes!” whispered Briar.

“If any gets into the other wells on the tray, the whole thing’s ruined. If you leak or drip, whatever happens, don’t make a fuss. Bring it quietly to the washers at the tub. If Crane finds out you slipped, you’re out.”

“A dreadful fate, to be sure,” muttered Briar, startling a chuckle from her. Made bold by that, he added, “I don’t see how you can work with that Bag. You seem all right, but he’s such a pickle-faced cull from an overbred litter—”

“I don’t know how you work with Rosethorn without bleeding to death,” she said frankly. “She’s that sharp with everyone.” Her eyes met Briar’s over their masks; both of them smiled. “To each his—or her—own, I suppose,” Osprey admitted. “Now. Trays. Put the glass lid aside, gently. Very gently. Follow the instructions on the board, there.”

Briar read them carefully:

To Well numbered 1 Add 2 drops liquid from Bottle numbered 1.

To Well numbered 2 Add 1 drop liquid from Bottle numbered 2.

To Well numbered 3 Add 1 measure powder from Bottle numbered 3.

To Well numbered 4 Add 3 drops liquid from Bottle numbered 4.

To Well numbered 5 Add 2 drops liquid from Bottle numbered 5.

To Well numbered 6 Add 1 drop liquid from Bottle numbered 6.

To Well numbered 7 Add 1 drop liquid from Bottle numbered 7.

Glancing at the tray as Osprey drew liquids or powders from the numbered bottles and slid them into the wells, he saw that a number was cut into the stone beside each well. There were seven in a row, which meant they tried seven possible cures on the pox liquid from three different people, all on one tray.

“I can do this,” he remarked, surprised.

“All you need is the ability to pay attention and steady hands,” Osprey remarked. “Once you’re done …” She eased the glass lid onto the tray and secured it. Then she put the tray on a shelf in the cabinet to their left. “You can’t let your mind wander. Once things get started, Crane and whoever is helping him will change the instructions on your board,” she explained. “I’ll help you get any new supplies and change the number tags, at least until you get the hang of things. You’re smart, or Rosenthorn never would have borne with you for a whole year. She—uh-oh.” Osprey had seen something in the outer workroom that she didn’t like. Briar followed her as she hurried through the doorway.

“Yellowrose, careful!” she told one of the pair handling the blue pox essence. “Your sleeve, your left sleeve—”

The youth about to dip his measure into the jar froze. The string that gathered his sleeve at one wrist had come undone. The sleeve had escaped the cuff on his glove to hang perilously close to the tray he was filling.

Crane, Rosethorn, and the Water dedicate had come in, washed and robed. “You.” Crane pointed to Yellowrose, his hand drooping from a rigid, accusing forefinger. “Yellowrose. Out.”

“I didn’t get it in—” protested the youth.

“Out,” Crane repeated icily. “Now.”

Yellowrose put down his measure and did as he was told. As he walked to the washroom, Briar saw a number of gloved hands pat the reject in comfort.

Crane went to the glass wall behind the large boiling vat, wiped away the steam, and rapped on the glass. A face pressed against it on the outside: a temple runner.

“Two more helpers,” Crane said loudly. “Two, understand?”

“Two?” a girl murmured.

“In case someone else errs,” said Crane. He turned to inspect the room, his weary brown eyes missing nothing. He pointed out things for each worker to correct, then entered the inner workroom.

“Come on,” Rosethorn murmured to Briar. “Time to get your feet wet.”

9

Rosethorn strode to the counter at the far side of Crane’s room, placing a satchel on it. She began to empty the bag, placing its contents—her own blends of oils, infusions, and herbs—in neat ranks against the glass wall. The Water dedicate, who someone had greeted as Peachleaf, dragged a tall clerk’s chair to the end of Crane’s worktable and began to take pens, paper, and ink from the cabinet underneath. Crane himself arranged things on the counter at his end: vials, lenses of all kinds and colors, sheets of paper, and a priceless Yanjing porcelain teacup tinted celestial blue. Briar’s fingers itched, not just because that cup was worth a fortune. It was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen.

Crane walked over to Briar’s station. “If it goes missing, I will know where to look,” he said ominously. “You are here to work.” Raising his voice so it would carry, he told Rosethorn, “I will treat him as I would any other novice. If he cannot be relied upon, he goes. I cannot do my own work and watch his too. He really is too young for this.”

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