I snuck into the kitchen and found the cook stirring absently as the bard told her about some heroic Atheron from a bygone era.
She passed me the spoon, “Stay here while I check on the other cooks,” and disappeared with the bard, going in the wrong direction to be visiting the bigger kitchen.
I stirred and tried not to think about returning to the Captain's office until she returned, looking flushed. She took the spoon back and stirred a moment before stopping to examine her soup. “What did you—!” dismayed, she scooped some up and watched the strange lumpy concoction drip and fall off the spoon. To me, she said, “Never you mind. Mirelle asked after you.” She shooed me to focus on rescuing her soup. Before I left, she called out, “Come back after. I will have dinner for you and Captain Winter.”
Mirelle claimed she needed to adjust my dress, but she was more interested in gossiping. She had been in the kitchen when Sebastien arrived and had analyzed the value of his clothing, concluding that he was wealthy and high class. I did not have the energy to understand her meaning, or to remember how he dressed.
When I finally escaped and picked up the cook’s prepared tray, it was dinnertime.
I entered the Captain’s quarters quiet as a mouse, but the Captain noticed. Rather than yelling at me as before, he sat silently through a stack of twenty or more reports, going through each paper and making mental notes. Completely ignoring both me and the tray, he looked at his watch and said, as if to himself, “It is dinnertime.” He straightened the carefully organized piles and left the room.
I nibbled on bread, tasted a bit of the soup and bored myself almost to sleep with a book on the Houses until he returned.
He passed me, sat down, and checked over his stacks. Then he looked up as if noticing me for the first time. “By some miracle, I see you are still alive.”
Some fearless part of me wanted to say that I had learned that I was unkillable. I had survived the forest, the forest witch, the king’s mage…
“I hope you at least spent your time productively, in reflection or study.”
“You can’t cook.” Avery suggested, leaning on the back of my chair. She had followed the Captain in from wherever she'd been.
“I cannot cook.” Her influence was strong. “I was in the kitchens and the cook needed help, and then Mirelle in the crafters quarters requested my assistance. I have been running between the two all day.”
“Too much.” She poked the books on the shelf, not that they noticed.
“I did not ask where you were,” the Captain went back to his paperwork, dismissing me.
Bitterly, I said, “I suppose you would not care. You found your princess.” Avery clamped a phantom hand over my mouth to keep me from spilling my remaining secrets all over his desk.
The Captain did not respond, but his irritation increased, noticeable by the drop in temperature.
That killed Avery’s patience, and she pushed me to say, “You wanted to know. I was merely explaining why I failed to do so.”
This also passed unacknowledged. I felt very small as though I had been caught in a lie.
It’s not as though he actually cares where you were. What does it matter? He does not even know you have magic.
I waited until I felt enough time had passed that I could sneak away without admitting to any guilt. I stopped rereading the same page to say “Good night, Captain.” I nearly made it into my room before he spoke.
“It is passing 7.”
“I am tired.”
“Cowardice and lies will do that to a person.”
I shut my door and fell face first into bed, not moving until my brain was tricked into shutting off by the force of my stillness.