I wondered why I didn’t feel more intruded upon. He had essentially gotten the scoop on me without asking my permission, but it wasn’t like it was against the law to ask around about a girl. Though, it could be a lot more than just that depending on his next words.
He must have known that, because he took a few moments to consider his words. Thankfully, only the butler had remained behind in the dining room to serve us.
By now, the sun had long set and a glittering sky framed the flowers and trees of the garden displayed outside the dining room window. There was a white and blue statue of something across the grass that I had been looking at throughout dinner, but I still couldn’t figure out what it exactly was.
“Would you like to move to somewhere more comfortable to sit?” he asked. “You said you liked the settee. And it has gotten chilly in here.”
Has it? But even as I thought that, I noticed my hands had gotten a little veiny and purple with cold.
“That sounds nice.”
“I’ll prepare some tea,” said the butler from behind, bowing, before I heard the click of the door.
I got up before Roman could reach my seat, probably to help me up like a proper gentleman, but my legs worked just fine, thank you, and my dress wasn’t anything to warrant the need for such courtesy. He seemed to wilt a little, but didn’t express any displeasure.
“Don’t worry, I will answer your question. I just noticed your hands. I should have considered that before I got too carried away in our conversation. I apologize.”
“You do realize I’ve been living in a place for the last six months where a man is considered polite if he doesn’t grope me or ask me lewd questions, right?”
His pale face flushed. “Why would you—“
“So you realize I’m not going to notice you not rushing me to a warm place at the drop of a dime. That being said,” and I tried to express my friendliness towards him in my face, as I feared I had just insulted him. “I appreciate your thoughtfulness. Every bit of it. You’ve been very sweet, thank you.”
He looked away with a light cough into his fist, the flush spreading to his ears.
“To think you’ve managed to put up with such a place…” he muttered.
“It’s not so bad. The regulars help keep hands off me. I’m good friends with one in particular whose pretty mean and big looking, so most times just a look from him is enough to get people to leave me alone.” Most people, I thought dryly, as the bard cropped up in my head. I gave a light groan.
“Are you alright?” he suddenly asked, all gentile concern.
“Yeah. Just remembered something back home I’d rather forget. Someone who doesn’t get a hint.”
He said nothing, though his mouth thinned a bit.
Back in the cozy green sitting room, I settled back onto the couch and he onto the armchair. The fire was going just as strong as it had when we had left.
“In answer to your question,” he said, his tone taking on a new, softer quality. “I know you have no family to speak of, or, at least any that can be found. I know you were married once before, but that your husband left you for reasons we need not speak of, as you’ve told me yourself, and that you see your apprentice as an adopted son.” The corner of his mouth rose wryly. “Though he does not share your sentiments, though that was readily apparent in his letter.”
I instantly blanched. “Oh god, what did he tell you?”
“Nothing you need worry about. Only that I need to be aware that you’ll only ask for things that will benefit him without thinking of yourself, which, so far, has been proven true. I also know that you are not of this country, but anything prior to the Red Swallow Inn has yet to be found, which tells me two things: you are either very good at covering your tracks, at a skill level that not even my power and money can track, or…” he paused. “A level of magic unheard of has been used to transport you here. That being said, I have yet to look into other countries, but seeing as we’re in the midst of a war with the nearest country, not to mention Livitia is very inland, new info could come out soon, but I’m not that rude to dig up a past you’d rather I not see.”
The whole time he spoke, I had the strangest sensation, almost like I was being told my fortune or what someone had deduced about my psychology via a hastily written essay. I probably should have felt intruded upon in some way, but it wasn’t like I had any horrible shadow to hide. No one knew me because I was from another world and had literally been dropped on this rock by god. The only problem was everything thinking I was nutters, or worse, believing me and setting me up as some saint. I had an anti-social life to live, thank you very much.
Roman watched carefully, his mouth a thin line and his eyebrows slightly puckered with trepidation, as though waiting for me to lash out. Though it was hard to see, as he had folded his fingers beneath his nose again and leaned on his knees to half cover his expression.
There was a slight tremble to his right foot, as though he were suppressing the urge to bounce his heel.
Human indeed. I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t know this man very well yet, but…
“It’s not that I’d rather you not see,” I said carefully. “It’s just there’s nothing for you to find.”
His eyes flickered. “What do you mean?”
The door opened then for the butler, who came in with a silver trolley laden with a delicate china teapot, cups, saucers, and a plate of white little cookies. I waited until he had set them all down before answering.
“Just that. There’s nothing to find. I did just kind of ‘poof’ here out of the blue, so I guess you can say it was magic.”
“How did you get here then? Can you tell me where you came from? Why you left?”
I winced. “Not really. I’m sorry. It’s mostly because it would reflect badly on me and probably cause me some problems, not because it would hurt anyone or because of something bad.”
At his downcast expression, I hesitated, but he didn’t give me a chance to reconsider.
“I understand,” he said. “Forgive me for being too nosey. Please know you are under no obligation to tell me anything. After all, my life belongs to you.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as that. I told you back there, I healed you because god told me to. He gave me my magic in the first place.”
“No, not still. I accepted the payment for labor argument so I’m asking for lessons for my apprentice, but I’m not comfortable accepting anything else. Besides,” I shrugged lightly as I finally reached for a teacup. “I don’t need anything.”
He offered to pour the tea for me, then watched from over his fingers as I dropped in a sugar cube, added a bit of milk, and took a nice whiff of the caramel, mint, and tea scent. It’d been a long time since I’d had tea. It tasted a lot like a green tea.
“You seem familiar with tea,” he said.
“It has been a while,” I acquiesced. I wondered why I’d never been able to find any at the inn or the market. I hadn’t thought tea existed in this world up until now. And while I wasn’t a big tea groupie, I had a few pleasant memories of it.
“Only the nobility have the means to purchase tea,” he said. “And yet you speak and act without hesitance or any of the manners of nobility…”
“Well, where I’m from there’s no such thing as nobility or commoners. Rich and poor, yeah, but that’s not decided by station or birth.”
“Fascinating…” he looked like he desperately wanted to ask more, but probably also feared asking too much and offending me. So, he opted for setting up a cup for himself instead.
As we sipped tea together he told me he’d need until winter to organize a tutor for the more mental skills, while knight’s training began in early Spring. He made sure to emphasize that it was more than easy for him to include Gus with the rest of the trainees that were brought on to train for the duchy’s knights, and that a tutor wasn’t a big deal either. However, Gus would need to live on the estate during training, as it was a sunrise to sunset sort of deal.
“I’d be happy to have him here during winter studies as well,” he said. “As you can see, I have more than enough room here, especially with my father and younger brother preparing to head out to the front lines once the snow melts and my mother unlikely to leave the main estate. You’re welcome to come too and learn a bit yourself. In fact, I’d very much like it. I get the feeling that you enjoy books, and I have quite the library here. That isn’t something you’re likely to have access to working where you do.”
I shrugged aside the invitation, suddenly reminded of the other thing I had caught on to. “Sorry, I’ve been meaning to ask, what is this about a war? I hope that isn’t too stupid of me to ask.”
“A lack of knowledge isn’t a reflection of your intelligence,” he said, almost as though scolding me. “You’re very bright. Though I am a bit surprised you haven’t heard. It’s not exactly new news, and I would have imagined you have heard something working at an Inn, but no mind. There’s been a steady war over the borders with Pinistan and Mila ever since they formed an alliance three years back. It’s been mostly light skirmishes on and off between the residence on either side over property and legislative disputes. It’s quite a ways off, so it hasn’t affected us in the north all that much. However, the king has grown impatient with it all, so he’s called for the northern nobles to join the south in squashing it for good. Most of us expect it to be all done and dealt with by the end of next year.”
Still, I frowned.
“If it’s so easy to deal with, why has been lasting for three years? And would two countries who have made an alliance really be that easy to deal with?”
“The only reason it’s lasted as long as it has is because of the alliance. Even together, though, they know they have no chance of conquering Lisuania. It became a full on war because the alliance exacerbated the already tense air between the residence of the border by requiring the kingdoms to do something about it. There’s more too it, such as resource rights and bad blood, but suffice it to say it is nothing to worry about.” He gave a nod with his teacup. “Your apprentice won’t be seeing any of that war, no need to worry.”
I did let out a relieved puff of air at that.
“Good.” I reached for a cookie. “War is stupid.” I paused. “Wait, won’t you have to go then? Since you’re all healed?”
“It is never wise to take all the heirs to war. No, I’ll be staying here. Though I’ve always seen to my training, and my new health has afforded me a renewed love of exercise, I am far behind in the skill compared to my brother. He’ll do fine enough.”
“And I guess nobleman mostly do the commanding rather than front line fighting.”
“You’d be correct.”
I nibbled the cookie. On finding it sweet and vanilla, I ate it whole. It made quite the delicious, dainty bite, and I did a little squirm in pleasure that I hoped he didn’t see.
“So, you just need Gus to stay with you when you get a tutor and while he trains to be a knight, how long would that take? The knight bit.”
“It ranges between two to five years.” At my alarmed look, he added, “But he can go home to visit for the holidays and weekends, of course. Though I’d be more than happy to house you with us while he trains.”
I scowled. “That’s called mooching and being an annoying mother, no way.” But I still hesitated. Because without Gus around, what would be my purpose here? Just the very thought of it opened a cold, achy loneliness in me that felt like a raw wound being rasped at by the wind.
That much must have been apparent on my face, for Roman’s features softened.
“I could always hire you on as the family’s personal healer. That would allow you to come out of hiding while not having to worry about the royal family. The duke’s family, after all, is technically part of royalty as well.”
When I still didn’t perk up at that, he added, with an extra measure of gentleness, “And even if he complained, I’m certain your boy would love having you around. Having been a teenage boy once myself, I know they don’t always say what they mean, and it’s apparent to everyone how much he treasures you.”
Hearing him call Gus ‘my boy’ soothed my apprehension more than it should have. I really didn’t learn, did I?
But I could still think on it, right?