So, that Ayba woman trusted the innkeeper of the inn she’d brought us to. I wasn’t too sure. For one, the innkeeper was skinny, and I have a prejudice about skinny innkeepers. For another, he was pompous enough to declare his inn a ‘house’ instead of an inn. Ridiculous. My suspicions proved true after finishing the delicious meal when *sound of person falling down*
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This is Nadec, my adventure. Written down in a better way than I can tell it.
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Episode 35: the skinny housekeeper
‘We are safe here, Erioc, the housekeeper, is a friend of the family. This private dining room gets used often by father. It’s—’
As if on cue, the housekeeper came in, carrying three cups of a steaming, dark brown liquid. Nadec sniffed it. Chocolate?
Melia shifted in her seat, uncomfortable about sitting down instead of doing servant tasks.
‘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. Everyone will want to celebrate.’
‘Oh, good, we might see her before the day has ended.’ Ayba kept talking as the housekeeper left. ‘Do you enjoy you caca? It is the specialty of this house. 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, because it gives a wonderful bite. 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.
‘I am not in love with him,’ she said slowly. ‘I mean, maybe I like him, but that’s not love. Why are you looking at me like that? We don’t even know each other 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. The look between the two of you spoke of much more. 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 just call him by his name alone.’ Nadec withdrew her hand from underneath the other woman’s. She reassessed her earlier thoughts about Ayba’s age; she might be slightly older instead of younger.
‘Why, it is proper to do so. They 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, saying the rest of the meal was on its way. His eyes lingered on Nadec, long enough 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 it was Ayba’s 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 used on the mixture of nuts, flour-wash, and herbs, made the balls taste as good as they are. He mentioned this level of food—and the service he provided, of course—made 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 on the inside 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 at once.
‘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 the woman’s 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 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.
‘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. She leaned her head on the table. It supported her enough to keep from toppling over while putting her hands on her knees.
‘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—well, a person and a gorwak—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, after tumbling off it first. Attempts to talk were made, but unsuccessful. Finally, they succeeded to walk around and drink water, improving 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 still enough to be able to communicate.
Blackie had felt Nadec’s distress at getting drugged and had tried to talk 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 general direction of Nadec’s whereabouts, 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 wonder of having Skipped Melia along without touching her, kept intruding. Her Line was getting stronger.
The Order was the largest mystery. Which Order? Who were they? Where they the same ones as the voices from the cave? If so, they were also the same ones who’d returned Wyny to his castle. Which meant they were the ones with all the control, possibly using Wyny 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. She still 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 ally in the woman. It might be good, but risky, to attempt to meet her again.
‘Melia, I’ll need you 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 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.
You have been listening to Nadec, chapter 35: the skinny housekeeper
Narrated, adventured and lived through by myself, Nadec. Written in a better way than I can tell it, by Astrid Jef.
Don’t go just yet, we’ve got bloopers coming up. [music on background] Find us on Twitter @astridjef and @nadecandkitty.