Rue made her way back through the station. The tea-shop was closed and men in black uniforms with a white cross insignia were picking their way through the wreckage. Not wishing to attract unwelcome official attention, Rue decided it was best not to present herself.

Quesnel and Primrose were nowhere to be found. Rue was not particularly concerned. Nor did she feel abandoned. If Quesnel was a gentlemen, which Rue suspected he was – deep down, duck ponds notwithstanding – he would take pains to see Prim back to The Spotted Custard safely before returning with reinforcements to find Rue. A smart man would bring Aggie Phinkerlington – that woman could scare the willies out of anyone. Even a lioness.

Disorientated, Rue set out to walk around the circle, figuring she’d eventually recognise something. The station was no less crowded, but Rue felt less of a spectacle alone and accompanied only by her parasol. Still, she was well aware of the danger of being without a chaperone in a strange station. She cocked an ear. No one was even speaking English! Shockingly, the common language seemed to be some form of Italian.

As a result, Rue was on her guard when a whisper of a presence sidled up next to her.

She was profoundly relieved to find it was only a smallish, thinnish female. She was uncomfortably close, touching Rue and keeping pace. The woman was shrouded in cloth, including her head. Unlike Miss Sekhmet, her robes were colourful. Rue might have thought she was merely pressed close by the crowd except that she said, quite distinctly, “Puggle?”

At first Rue thought she misheard – it was such an out-of-place word to come from that figure in this location. Like seeing a kingfisher with a diploma.

“Are you… Puggle?” The woman’s accent was strong but not so strong that Rue could misinterpret.

The only thing visible, her dark eyes, were intent and serious.

Only Dama called Rue Puggle. She got excited, realising what this meant. “Oh, is this…? Oh my goodness! Are you trying to have a clandestine encounter with me? Espionage and codes and such?” She almost clapped her hands. “Oh, please tell me you have a secret message?”

“Ah, I see you are much as family lore described.”

Rue was taken aback. “Have we met before?”


“Not so much as either of us might remember. My name is Anitra.”

“Oh, ah, I see,” said Rue, not seeing at all. Clearly the name should mean something, but it didn’t. Although it was very pretty.

At Rue’s obvious confusion Anitra added, “My people,” she paused, soft and delicate, “float.”

Rue shook her head.

“Ah well, we do like to be forgotten.” Anitra shrugged under the swathes of fabric. “I have something for you from Goldenrod.”

This confused Rue further. “Pardon?” Was Goldenrod one of the fated specialist tea contacts?

“You left precipitously – he was not best pleased.” Anitra tutted in disgust and then reached into the folds of her robes and produced a slim literary volume. “I am to give you this, should he need to communicate with you.”

It was an innocuous book, cheaply made with a pink canvas cover, without a doubt some ill-informed travel guide from a London publisher. It was so utterly unexpected and out of character that Rue took it automatically, stopping right there in the tower street to glance it over.

Rue opened it to the title page and read out, her voice rising with incredulity, “Sand and Shadows on a Sapphire Sea: My Adventures Abroad by Honeysuckle Isinglass? A young lady’s travel journal. But these are two a penny in the bookshops back home. Why on earth would I need…?”

But for the second time in as many minutes, Rue found herself abandoned by a female in the middle of conversation. “Goodness, hasn’t anyone any manners on this station?” she asked the disinterested crowd.

Then, looking up, she noticed to her relief that she had found her way to The Spotted Custard. Or at least found her way back to the doorway leading to its dock. Her ship bobbed softly outside the glass some distance away. She did not consider the fact that as they walked together, Anitra had been guiding her back.

Clutching her rescued parasol in one hand and Sand and Shadows on a Sapphire Sea in the other, Rue headed home. She felt that she had had enough cryptic encounters with mysterious females to last a lifetime. After all, that was three in less than a half-hour – if one counted the lioness.

As it turned out, Rue was the last aboard. The deckhands were already pulling in the mooring ropes as she trotted down the spatula handle towards The Spotted Custard. Prim and Percy were on the poop deck in deep discussion.

As Rue made her way up the gangplank, Spoo saw her and gave a wave.

“Lady Captain, where you been?” the scamp wanted to know.

“Nowhere special.”

“Had us worried, you did.” Spoo was sporting a spectacular black eye. Rue didn’t feel they were on intimate enough terms to ask why.

“Apologies, Spoo.” As Rue put her foot on the main deck a large blond bullet hit her from the side and twirled her around so that her back was pressed flush against the railing.

Quesnel grabbed her by the shoulders and actually began to shake her. “Don’t do that!”

“Mr Lefoux, unhand me!” objected Rue, whacking at him with Sand and Shadows on a Sapphire Sea and greatly tempted to use the parasol. Such impudence.

The gentleman in question seemed to have temporarily lost hold of his senses.

He pulled her in and wrapped his arms about her in a rather nice hug which Rue tried to imagine was like that of one of her many uncles but which was neither scruffy nor fruity-smelling, and gave her heart a little boost in a way the uncles never had. For one breathless moment she thought he might actually kiss her, right there at the end of the gangplank in full view of her crew, with blatant disregard for all propriety. He drew back and looked at her lips, his violet eyes very focused, but then he merely hugged her again. His hands pressed hard against her back. She fancied she could feel the roughness through the many layers of her dress. They must be rough, all that handling of sprockets and spigots and such.

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