Remember I said there was one person in the Palace Kitchen who didn’t give me an ill look as I walked past them? That’s who’s in my bed. Naked. And I couldn’t be happier.
She knows better than to complain that I sort of sat on her. Instead, she gets right to helping me out of my clothes. You can guess what happens next.
No, we are not married. As an apprentice, I am not legally allowed to marry anyone. Let alone the Earl of Haulloran’s niece, even if she’s a dirt-poor relation who works as kitchen staff. (“Cook” is a title only the more experienced staff have earned. Not that it’s an entire blessing. It was only the cooks and chefs who were hanged after the incident with the tainted troll meat.)
This will be a very improper introduction, as she’s not wearing any clothes and it’s dark so you can’t see her, but meet my sweetie, Paviara. Paint a picture of her in your mind, and it will not do her justice. She’s beautiful, she’s sweet, and she’s kind. And we’re in love. Oh, and we’re careful: she’s not gotten pregnant yet.
Paviara’s mother was the most unworthy of the Earl of Haulloran’s siblings, having disgraced her family in several ways, including her marriage to a third-rate bard. When she died, the Earl had to find something to do with her two children. He wasn’t very generous, which is why Paviara works in the kitchen. But she’s still family, so she does see him regularly and keeps up with family gossip.
Which I now need to find out about. So, in between casual chit-chat and compliments to each other, I ask, “Is it true the Earl’s fathered a bastard on the queen?”
Paviara doesn’t answer immediately. When she does, there’s a suspicious note in her voice. “Just what are you up to, Tollon?”
“Oh, about five-foot-two, same as you,” I joke.
She gives me a jab with her elbow, and then sits up. “C’mon, out with it. You know I dislike talking about my family.”
“To say nothing of how your family would dislike talk of me.” When that doesn’t get a laugh, I drop the pretense. “I heard the rumor, and I’m worried about you. And the Earl may have something I want.”
“What?” Her voice turns from suspicious to concerned. Good.
There is a long silence. My darling is thinking. This is dangerous, because I have this needling suspicion that she’s actually smarter than I am. Just like she’s just barely taller than me. Another reason, incidentally, why Katrina’s not in my bed: she’s the better part of a foot taller.
“When you say you want the dragon’s teeth, you mean Sarton does, don’t you?” My lady is nothing if not careful.
I assent. “Yeah, I don’t know why, but he wants three.”
“Find out,” Paviara speaks decisively. “Getting them isn’t going to be easy. Lady Gwella has them. But if the price is right, I think I could get them from her.”
“She’s not going to give them to Sarton at any price,” I caution her.
She laughs. “Then we don’t tell her. In fact, we don’t tell her anything at all. She’s not going to know how they disappeared.”
My jaw drops. “You’re talking about stealing them?”
“No, I’m going to go to Lady Gwella, confess I’m sleeping with Sarton’s apprentice, and ask her to give them to me.” Paviara’s voice can sound charming to me, even when she’s being sarcastic. “Of course I’m going to steal them. Or, to be precise, we are going to steal them.”