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At a table in the large, open space through which the staircase made its way, one level below the suite of Sir Bass Foster, Duke of Norfolk, his herald, Sir Ali, one of his noble bodyguards, Don Diego, and his friend and mentor, Baron Melchoro, sat, dicing desultorily, swapping yarnsfor all three had been free-swords and had soldiered in many corners of the known world as well as many pockets of it that were less well knownand sipping at tiny cuplets of a black, thick, bitter decoction that Sir Ali prepared afresh now and then in a long-handled brass pot over the glowing coals of a brazier.

Three iron bars guarded it, held in place by iron cuplets bolted into the stone walls.