Previously: Nadec goes to the opening ritual of the coronation festivities, making the mistake of sitting in a prime spot. When she wants to leave, she meets Ayba, a forward woman claiming to have been best friends with Wyny, before he became ruler. Because of talking to her, Nadec can’t leave quick enough and gets eye in eye—from a distance—with Wyny. He tells her to run. Ayba flees along with her.
Read all the previous chapters here.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
‘We are safe here, Erioc, the housekeeper, is a friend of the family. This private dining room gets used often by father.’
As if on cue, the housekeeper came in, bringing them all a cup of dark brown liquid. Nadec sniffed it. Chocolate? Melia sat down next to them, shifting in her seat, uncomfortable with being told she didn’t have to be the servant at this moment.
‘Food will come soon, miss O’Dinasz.’
‘Thank you. Is Deneria not working today? I was hoping to see her, I love getting served by her.’ Ayba turned to Nadec. ‘She is lovely, and pretty. You might have liked her too.’ She winked.
‘Oh no, miss, I allowed her to go watch the parade and opening ritual for the coronation festivities. Everyone is there now, I don’t need any help, but I did tell her to come back before it finished because I expect a rush of people then. Everyone will want to celebrate.’
‘Oh, good, we might see her before the day has ended.’ The housekeeper left. ‘Do you enjoy you caca? It is this house its specialty. Molten chocolate mixed with nut milk and a hit of liquor. There are more ingredients but Erioc keeps them secret. I always ask for a double hit. It is delicious, is it not? The food is delectable here as well, you will see. Now tell me, how did you fall in love with lord Pagewyn?’
Nadec nearly choked on her next swallow of caca. Ayba did have a way to sneak questions on to people, didn’t she?
‘I am not in love with him,’ she said slowly. ‘I mean, maybe I like him, but that’s hardly love. Don’t look at me like that. We don’t even know each other that well. We just had a little adventure together, that’s all.
‘That is all?’ Ayba laughed and took Nadec’s hand. ‘Dear Cedan, that is certainly not all there is to that story. Come now, you can trust me. A friend of lord Pagewyn is a friend of me.’
‘Why do you keep calling him lord? If he really is such a good friend of yours, you should be able to just call him by his name alone.’ Nadec withdrew her hand from underneath the other woman’s. She re-assessed her earlier thought about her age. Ayba might’ve been slightly older than Nadec instead of younger.
‘Why, it is proper to do so. They had made that clear enough when I saw him last. If I sound a tad bitter, I will not apologise for it. I truly do miss my friend. But—’
Erioc entered, carrying a large plate of roasted potatoes and a basket of sliced bread. He put it down in the middle of the table while saying the rest of the meal was on its way. His eyes lingered long enough on Nadec for her to notice the oddity.
‘Ladies, please, do not stop your conversation because I enter. I will return with your plates swiftly.’ Before he left, he gave Nadec another side-eyed glance.
‘Does he always look at people like that?’ Nadec asked Ayba, frowning at the door.
‘Like what? I have not noticed anything strange. Perhaps he is taken away by your beauty, as I am.’
That was too much. Nadec burst out laughing. She was relieved when the other woman laughed along with her, indicating she had been joking. If she had meant it as a way to distract from the possible tension, she’d succeeded. Nadec appreciated people who could use humour to relieve serious situations.
They hadn’t finished laughing when the housekeeper came back in, this time carrying three plates. He said to Ayba it was her favourite, balls with tomato sauce. The sauce was yellow, reminding Nadec of how Wyny had reacted to merely mentioning red food. Poor guy will never know the delight of eating a strawberry. The housekeeper went on to explain Nadec how the balls were made. He bragged about how the special process they use on the mixture of nuts, flour-wash, and herbs, makes the balls taste as good as they are. He mentioned this level of food—and the service he provided, of course—was the difference between a common inn, and a house, like his. The sneer when he said inn made his thin face look particularly evil.
He scooped each of them a spoonful of potatoes on their plates, even Melia’s. Ayba told him she’d like to have privacy now and would ring the bell if she needed his service. It was only then Nadec noticed the small rope hanging next to the door.
They dug in their food. With all the excitement of the morning, Nadec had gotten hungry. She hadn’t realised it until she put the first bite in her mouth. It was delicious. The balls were soft with the right amount of chewiness and crispness on the outside. The tomato sauce was possibly the best she’d ever eaten, never mind the odd colour. And the potatoes. She loved potatoes in all their forms and sizes, prepared in every way possible. These were amazing. Everyone was quiet while eating, focused on their meal.
She was cleaning off her plate, using pieces of bread to soak up the last of the sauce, when Melia surprised them all by speaking. ‘I do not feel so well, mistress.’ Before she’d finished the sentence, Nadec’s head spun, as if she’d dropped 20 metres down.
‘You tricked us.’ She wanted to sound accusing and in control, but her tongue was doing funny things. Her hand reached out towards Ayba, aiming to grab her by the throat. It fell in her lap instead. Ayba looked at it, wide-eyed.
‘If you did not sound unexplainably drunk, I’d encourage this, but what is wrong? Tricked you how? Cedan?’
Nadec stood up. She could barely keep upright, her legs wobbled enough for to need the support of the table. Melia had fallen to the ground, still open eyes trickling tears. Nadec attempted to walk towards her but realised after one failed step it wasn’t possible. The door slammed open.
‘Erioc. What is going on here, what did you do?’ The genuine question and shock in Ayba’s voice made Nadec reconsider her part in this. Perhaps she was innocent. Perhaps she wasn’t. Nadec had trouble keeping her thoughts from straying. She bent through her knees. They almost buckled completely. Putting her hands on them only worked by leaning her head on the table. It supported her enough to keep from toppling over.
‘The Order is searching for her, miss. They got word of you running away from the opening ritual with her, although they only had a vague description. They’ve been searching for this one for a long time, miss. You’ll be thanked for bringing her here.’
‘I… brought her here because I thought it was supposed to be safe here. No, do not go near her. What is wrong with the Order, chasing innocent women?’
‘If the Order wants her, she is not innocent, miss, you should realise that. What is she doing with her knees?’
The energy took longer than usual to build up. Nadec suspected her legs were moving slow, too slow. She wanted to go over to Melia, to touch her and take her along. She swore she’d come back for her. That would be two people she needed to rescue from imprisonment. Surely they wouldn’t have any need for Melia? Surely they’d let her go? From the moment there was enough energy, she focused on her room. She Skipped.
Someone touched her shoulder. Nadec flinched from the sharp pain in her head as she moved it. She opened one eye to a slit, followed by the next. Kitty was there, licking her face, the purrs a comforting sound. A little while later she managed to open both eyes fully. Her left leg was up on the bed, her right one dangled on top of the bedside table. The rest of her lay on the floor in an awkward angle. Melia’s head leaned over her, arms hanging down, the rest of her body on the bed.
Several careful movements later, both of them were sitting. Nadec leaning against the bedside table, Melia leaning against the bed. She’d been able to slip of it first. Attempts to talk were made, but unsuccessful. Finally, they succeeded to walk around and drink water, which improved their lethargic state a lot.
The sunlight outside had diminished and disappeared completely by then. They’d lost the whole afternoon and a big portion of the evening by the drug-induced sleep. Blackie’s broken thoughts sounded panicked when they got through to Nadec. The thoughts were like a long-distance radio transmission. But they were still enough to communicate. Blackie appeared to have felt Nadec’s distress at getting drugged and had tried to get in touch with her ever since. Poor dragon must have been a ball of stress, not even being able to get to her. At that thought, Blackie interrupted and said it was not true. She could feel the direction Nadec was in, and would be able to come to her. The disappointment was obvious when she followed that up by saying it would take her weeks to fly that distance.
When Blackie was set at ease, Nadec began to think through the events. The first thing invading her thoughts was the wonder of having Skipped Melia along without touching her. Her Line was getting stronger. At least that was one positive point to come out of what happened.
The Order. It was the largest mystery. Which Order? Who are they? Where they the same ones as the couple from the voices from the cave? If so, they were also the same ones who’d returned Wyny to his castle. Which means they were the ones to control it. Was Wyny used as a pawn. Remembering what the voices had said, they didn’t think highly of him, calling him a fool. But, a fool to whom the people did listen and look up to. Nadec wanted to conclude Wyny really had nothing to do with this all, which meant he hadn’t betrayed her. But she refrained herself from making that assumption.
She did believe Ayba didn’t have bad intentions. Her reaction to the poisoning by the housekeeper had been genuine. Nadec kept playing the scene over and over in her head. The more she did so, the more she was convinced of Ayba’s innocence. She decided to trust her gut feeling in this. She could have an allie in the woman. It might be good, but risky, to attempt to meet her again.
‘Melia, I’ll need your brains to help me figure things out. I need you to stop being the servant when we’re in private, I don’t like that submissive shit anyway, and be my assistant. I know you’re smart enough. I need your brains. Can you do that?’
Melia nodded, eagerness obvious.
‘Good.’ Nadec hesitated. ‘Eh, could you just maybe, eh, first get us dinner from downstairs, I’m starving. Proper, unpoisoned food might be good to flush away the last of the toxins. And a jug of wine. Good toxins to replace the bad.’
Melia grinned and gave a mock curtsy.
Nadec settled herself at the desk. She was finally ready to push through all the pages her parents left. It was clear she couldn’t keep in hiding for another ten days, with Patat captured and her face known. It was time to dig deep and come up with a master plan.