It is morning. Paviara left just before dawn. She has to “sneak” past the chaperones of the unmarried male servants’ wing and of the unmarried female servants’ wing. I say “sneak,” because what’s involved is a bribe, and not a very big one. Chaperones who demand too much end up having fatal accidents.
I hear most of my fellows, whether servants or apprentices, getting up and going to the wash room. I don’t bother, not just yet. Sarton likes to read early in the morning, and won’t mind if I take my time. And I most definitely need time to think.
Paviara confirmed that the Earl of Haulloran did indeed father a child on the queen. She is fairly sure Lady Gwella made this happen, by bespelling one or both of them. Why, Paviara isn’t so sure. She thinks Lady Gwella is pursuing several paths to greater power. Having her husband’s child on the throne might be one of them. But Lady Gwella’s a deep one, and it might be something more indirect that she’s aiming for.
And Paviara seems set on stealing dragon’s teeth from that woman! How, she wouldn’t tell me. She said she had to check into a few things first. And she jokingly said that the less I knew, the less I’d reveal under torture.
Which is a real threat, not so much for the theft, for which it’s more likely Lady Gwella will simply kill us if she catches us. No, the problem is what the earl has done. If the earl’s enemies can accuse him of treason for seducing the queen, and make it stick, then the earl will no doubt be tortured and executed. And so will his secretary, his family, his friends, his servants, and however many degrees out the king decides the inquiry and punishment must go. Paviara, as a niece of his employed at the palace, would be an obvious suspect. And that would lead straight to me.
With a sigh, I get up and head down toward the washroom. It’s a trial for me. You see, the current ideal of beauty is copper-colored skin and hair. Which I’ve got. Even my eyes are copper-brown. And because I’m short and slight, I invariably get teased by my peers, and sometimes propositioned. Sometimes that propositioning can be rather forceful. Which is why the very first spell I requested Sarton to teach me was one to hurt anyone who laid hands on me without my consent.
I get the usual amount of ribbing, mixed in with some winks. A few of them know about Paviara, and while her golden skin and locks are not so fashionable, they still envy me for her. No one tries anything stupid, there or at breakfast in the servants’ dining hall. I notice that talk of the queen’s bastard is not yet circulating. I don’t start any.
Paviara wants me to ask Sarton what the dragon’s teeth are for. I’m not going to do that. Sarton wants them, he has a reason, and he’ll get upset if I don’t get some, but all in due time. If he doesn’t ask, I don’t take flack for not getting them yet.
The first question out of his mouth when I get to his workshop is, “So, is the child really Haulloran’s?”
I nod. “Definitely.”
Sarton leans back in the chair behind his desk and gives me a faint smile. “Learn that from your playmate?” He then breaks out into laughter upon seeing the look on my face. “My boy, I was young once myself. I know what young men do. And young women, too. If I’m going to the trouble to train an apprentice, I don’t want to lose him simply because he’s gone plowing the wrong field.”
I’m caught between embarrassment and resenting his agricultural metaphor. I drop into my chair. I mutter, “I suppose I should have told you.”
“And I would have forbidden it, and you would have gone ahead anyhow, if not with her then with someone else.”
“So now what?” I ask.
Sarton grimaces. “She’s a dangerous girl to know, with the earl’s position being what it is. Which is why I’m talking to you about it now. I don’t expect you to give her up, but watch your back, boy. And come to me at a whiff of trouble.” And with a short laugh, he adds, “Worse comes to worse, I can kill you quickly and save you being tortured.”
And that is Sarton. Kindly old guy one moment, grimmer than a hangman the next. He doesn’t hold to a mood.
And then he casually says, “Lesson later today. Right now, you need to go out and get me six or seven phoenix feathers. And don’t forget the dragon’s teeth.”
“I won’t,” I promise. I just wish I could. I guess I’m going to have to steal them, after all.