That got me a weird look, and I instantly regretted opening my mouth.
“I mean, before I healed it.” I put a hand to my face, which was already heating up. “Scratch that, let’s pretend I didn’t say that. That sounded horrible. I’m glad you’re healed, and you are too.”
An awkward silence fell between us. I wanted to dive beneath the couch and cry.
“I don’t like alcohol,” I said. “I just said something really stupid.”
“No, it’s alright. I wasn’t offended. It had been my face for quite some time, and even I’m unnerved a bit when I look into the mirror now. It’s like I’m seeing a stranger. Though I’m curious as to your reasons.”
Since he wasn’t totally put off, but even leaning on his knees and looking at me as though innocently and honestly intrigued, I chewed on my lip as I considered answering. The happy, relaxed feeling in my head made it hard to predict the outcome of my answer. It didn’t even occur to me to lie. I had an honest nature by fault, probably because I was too lazy to keep track of lies or care how the truth landed.
“Well…and I mean this in a completely platonic sense. But you’re a bit too handsome now—the most handsome man I’ve ever seen, really, and it—it makes it a little hard to be comfortable. Kind of like looking into the sun. It’s unnerving.”
His thick, dark eyebrows went high with surprise. “Unnerving?”
“Yeah,” I looked down at my hands.
“Could you elaborate? I find it honestly intriguing that you’d feel this way. I figured most would enjoy looking at a nice face.”
“Well, yeah, except I feel like the nice face might affect my actions in a way I don’t want them to be, or block me from seeing who you really are.”
“I believe any kind of face, ugly or beautiful, can do that.”
“I suppose you are right…”
Another awkward silence fell in-between us, in which I looked intermittingly between my hands and the fire, and not at him.
“I like looking at your face,” he said, rather gingerly, as though each word slipped from his mouth like an embarrassing drop of dool, if a posh, stiff-upper lip gentleman could ever let themselves drool. “That, uh…I mean…that sounded…”
“…But I still want to see the you behind it. I won’t be distracted. If that assures you any…”
What were we even talking about anymore?
Thankfully, a knock came at the door to interrupt us and the poster child for butler stepped in to announce that dinner was ready.
Romanian’s relief was all too obvious as he stood and held out a hand to me.
I accepted the hand up, but pulled them back once I stood. He made no sign that he thought anything of this and we walked out together.
The dining hall, or perhaps one of them for this one was small and I’d imagine there was some big grand ass one somewhere, had a table that seated twelve that was polished to the point it made a perfect reflection of the glistening light fixtures above it. The tall windows on the east side showed the sun setting just a bit to the north, painting slanted gold into the candlelight. A footman moved the chair out and in for me. The glistening silverware had two forks, one two pronged and the other three, two spoons, and a knife, all done in silver and gold. The glass also had a silver rim.
Once we had sat, the food was delivered to us, piping hot and all levels of gourmet and fancy. There was fillet mignon, a pumpkin and rosemary soup, salted steamed vegetables cut into flowers and garnished with rice, soft white bread that reminded me of home, and a delicate fruit juice decorated with fruit.
I got so caught up in enjoying the food I nearly forgot the whole reason I’d come here. Conversation was impossible.
It wasn’t until dessert was brought out in the form of some sort of light apple cake with delicate icing and berries, that I managed to come back down from cloud nine to find my noble host looking at me with such content and warmth that I instantly felt my neck and face go hot and regretted everything.
“I…I’m not a glutton…” I said weakly.
He chortled, as though finding my embarrassment cute, which just made me want to end this all the sooner.
“It didn’t even cross my mind. Any man is pleased when he can feed a woman well, and you eat well too.”
I hope that meant I ate cleanly and not in a way that made one think they were watching a t-rex go to town on a carcass.
I glanced at the servants who had been standing by behind me and inwardly groaned. They weren’t looking at me, but I knew they were judging me anyways. How had I eaten with such ease?
“I’m afraid you’ve ruined food for me,” I said weakly. “I’m not going to be able to enjoy what I usually eat for a month.”
His bright green eyes lit up, like the facets on a jewel being turned in the light, and he opened his mouth, but hesitated.
Whatever he had been thinking of saying, he thought better of it, and cleared his throat with a sip of juice.
“You mentioned in your letter that you were interested in acquiring an education opportunity for your apprentice.”
I more than happily latched onto the change of subject. As we worked out the details, the servants took away our plates, but left behind refilled glasses of both juice and water for the both of us. I told Roman all I knew about Gus’s interests, as well as what I knew would do him good in the long run, such as reading, writing, history, and basic economics. I had more or less decided on the hope that he’d grow up out of his weird crush on me, and when he did I wanted him to have the tools to get to where he wanted to be.
“…and if one can read, one can essentially teach oneself all sorts of things,” I said. “History helps us not to make the mistakes of the past, and even the basics of economics can help one manage their own finances, prepare for the worst, and recognize trends that could support or destroy a business endeavor.”
Roman didn’t respond right away, his gaze wide from across his woven fingers, which he had set beneath his nose.
When the silence went on a bit longer than was normal for the flow of conversation, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “Did…did I say something wrong?”
“No, not at all.” He put his hands down to the table, but his head tilted even further, as though to express interest or get a better look at me. “It’s just…if it isn’t too rude of me to ask…you’re not a commoner, are you?”
I blinked. “Hey, there are educated folk who aren’t commoners.”
“Pardon me, let me rephrase my question. Where are you from?”
My stomach did a little jerk. “What, do I have an accent?”
He gave a small smile. “Hardly. But you speak as someone well read, while you write like someone who is unfamiliar with our language. And though you have no accent, your word choice is…unusual, to say the least. The way you speak, the cadence of your tone, the structure of your sentences—it’s really quite obvious, but, and I mean no ill will by this, my sources which told me of your drink preferences were also unable to tell me where you were from. According to them, you simply appeared at the inn one day, out of the blue, and somehow managed to get hired then and there on the spot as though the keeper were expecting you.”
I had my eyes to my glass, slowly swirling around the dregs at the bottom.
“What else have you learned about me?”