‘Yes, of course,’ I replied, without hesitation. From my training I knew that it was always useful for an intelligence agent to have people in your debt. A debt that you might need to call in someday. Not that I expected to have any need to call in any debts. As a limited time lieutenant, I’d likely be tasked with no more than collecting gossip from merchant traders and travelers, and writing up reports that would eventually end up in Section 3 – where my replacement would read and file them away, as I had done for the last two years. But you never know.

‘No questions?’ she asked, suspiciously.

‘Only one for now. Your name. Later, well, I’ll expect some answers, depending on the nature of this favor.’

She considered me with another long scowling look. ‘Lessie.’

‘Ah, Lessie, ah…?’

‘Just Lessie.’

‘I should’ve driven a harder bargain,’ I said, with a grin. I should’ve. ‘Oh, well. What can I do for you?’

She lifted a hand to her neck and drew a golden cylinder on a chain out from under her blouse. She lifted it over her head to hold it in her hand and consider it in silence for several long seconds. It looked to be some ten centimeters in length and two in diameter, and it was engraved in a complex decorative pattern – not with any characteristic design I could put an island culture to. The chain ran through a hole through the very top of the cylinder.

‘Keep this for me,’ she said suddenly thrusting the golden cylinder to me. ‘Keep it well hidden and tell no one about it. Return it only to me, or to a messenger who gives you a coin like this,’ she added, drawing an intricately carved shell-coin from her pocket. ‘It must match in both design and size. Take this one.’

I took it and the cylinder. The cylinder of gold was not as heavy as I had expected. ‘What is it?’

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