The Ragwitch
hares too?” asked Paul, just to be polite. But Quigin didn’t seem too pleased with this question, only grunting before reluctantly answering. “No. He’s got eagles and dogs and otters andall manner of beasts. I’m the only Friend of Beasts whose Friend is a stupid hare.”
    He looked at Paul with an angry glare, and then suddenly jumped to his feet. Paul leapt back nervously, but Quigin ran off down the wall to dive at something that was lurking in the weeds. There was a scuffle for a second, then he stood up with a silver-grey hare, held securely by its two long, aristocratic ears.
    “Leasel?” asked Paul.
    The other boy nodded, but didn’t answer. Instead, he held the hare up to his eyes, until their noses were almost touching. The hare seemed to be trying to look away, but slowly her eyes focused on Quigin’s, and he began to whisper in a voice so low Paul couldn’t even catch the language, let alone the words.
    After a few seconds, Quigin put the hare down, and released her ears. Paul expected her to dash off like any disturbed animal, but she quietly began nibbling on a large, nasty-looking weed.
    “She was sorry for being troublesome,” said Quigin. “So she’ll probably behave for a few hours with any luck. Now, with Leasel out of the way, all I have to do is get back to Sasterisk. You wouldn’t know anything about balloons would you?”
    “No,” said Paul, surprised that anyone would ask him if he knew anything about balloons. Mostly people just assumed that he didn’t know anything about anything.
    “Never mind,” said Quigin, cheerfully. He sat down on the wall, and started to scratch Leasel behind the ears, while Paul wondered if he should continue walking along the road. He was just about to get up and go, when Quigin jumped up again, and slapped himself on the side of the head.
    “Paul! You said your name’s Paul!”
    “Yes,” replied Paul, wondering why Quigin was looking at him in such a strange way—almost as if he was trying to remember where he’d seen him last.
    “You’re certain your name is Paul?” asked Quigin again, almost fearfully. When Paul nodded, he sighed, and sat down again, scratching his head.
    “Is my name important?” asked Paul anxiously. He’d read stories where people had their heads chopped off because the natives hadn’t liked their names. But that was always when they spoke different languages…
    “Paul,” said Quigin, out into the air, as if he was talking to himself. “He was very exact. He said Paul several times, and even spelled it out for me. Paul as in ‘shawl,’ except with a ‘p.’”
    “Who said this?” asked Paul, rather nervously. “What are you talking about?”
    “The man who lent me the balloon,” replied Quigin, vaguely pointing towards the great yellow-lozenged balloon and the wicker basket below it. “Master Thruan. He’s a friend of my Master, and agreat traveller and storyteller.”
    “But what did he say about me?” asked Paul.
    “Well,” said Quigin slowly. “I didn’t believe him at the time, but he told me that I could borrow his balloon. I’d always wanted to ride in a balloon, so I jumped at the chance…and Master Cagael didn’t mind giving me the day off…”
    “Yes, yes,” interrupted Paul. “But what did this Thruan tell you about me? Did he mention the Elementals?”
    “No,” replied Quigin. “He said that if I should meet a boy named Paul, I was to take him wherever he wanted in the balloon—no matter how long it might take! And Master Cagael agreed! But I thought it was only a joke…”
    “This Master Thruan,” said Paul. “What does he do?”
    “He doesn’t do anything that I know of,” said Quigin. “Leastwise, he doesn’t work like normal folk. He travels mostly—though not always by balloon.”
    “Oh,” replied Paul, disappointed. “He’s not a Wizard then?”
    Quigin raised one eyebrow, and paused, before replying. “I didn’t say that,” he said. “Though there’s

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