A/N: Stacea doesn’t quite understand that regular people really can’t smell as well as she does. But everyone else just thinks she’s either being sensitive or metaphorical most of the time. Perthaeam are kind of like highly territorial guard dogs with a knack for sensing things that lie beneath the surface. Two days’ time will reveal for Kennick and Irix what’s afoot.
“Aría.” Stacea stepped up beside her, an empty silver tray tucked under her arm. “What do you make of that kid over there?”
Aría surveyed the guests in the direction indicated by Stacea’s tilt of head.
She spotted him, standing along the edges of the reception, mouth clamped shut and eyes staring straight ahead. His entire demeanor was an inward moan of social anxiety.
Aría ducked her head closer to Stacea. “What about him?”
“What do you make of him?”
“He looks uncomfortable to me. I didn’t see who he arrived with—seems too young to have come alone. Who does he belong to?”
“He smells like a reptile to me…” Stacea said quietly. “I don’t like him.”
Aría hesitated, confused. “Like he can’t be trusted, you mean?” She didn’t know if calling someone a reptile was an insult in Dilikí as it was in Kaladría.
“I don’t know,” Stacea murmured. “It puts me on edge.”
The boy winced. His hand found its way to the gold vest, over his abdomen.
“You really don’t smell it?”
Aría abruptly handed her tray to Stacea, startling her. “Hold this for a second.”
Once the tray was out of her possession, she ignored Stacea’s hissed protestations and threaded through the satin and conversation to the kid leaning against the wall.
The boy noticed her with a start.
“Excuse me, sir,” Aría said gently. “Are you all right?” She could practically feel Stacea’s dismay boring a hole in the back of her head, but she didn’t look away from the king’s guest. “Can I get you anything?”
The boy looked at her, wide-eyed, as if cornered. He pulled his hand off his vest and pinned it to his side.
He was sweating. “No, I’m fine,” he said. “Thank you—” His breath caught. He swallowed. “Actually, where is the bathroom? Sorry…”
“Here, let me show you,” Aría said. “It’s just outside of these doors down the hallway.”
The boy moved after her, his hand finding its way to his middle again. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Aría hadn’t expected an honorific toward her to come from his mouth. She led him out into the silent hallway, watching him in her peripheral vision. He kept his gaze on the floor, eyes tight.
“Really, can I get you anything?” she ventured again as they came upon the door. “Soda water, perhaps?”
The boy cracked a wan smile and reached for the doorknob. “No, thank you.” He opened the door.
“If you change your mind just let any of us know, all right?” Aría tugged lightly on the black collar of her servant’s uniform.
The boy nodded and slipped into the bathroom. As Aría stepped away, she thought she heard the sound of vomiting.
She hesitated. The door from another one of the rooms opened and Aría jumped to make herself scarce. She stole down the hallway, ducked into the servant’s passage, and headed straight to the kitchen to continue her assigned task for the night.
She would keep an eye out for him, she decided, and possibly swing by the bathroom later to make sure he was all right.
Kennick dragged himself out from behind the heavy bathroom door. As he unsteadily made his way toward the ballroom, the door opened to betray his master.
“Where have you been?” Irix said.
Kennick gestured behind him. “In the bathroom, hurling chips.”
Irix let the door shut. Her expression softened as she strode up to him. “That’s not good…” She put a hand on his forehead. “You don’t feel feverish…And what did I say about colloquialisms?”
“Sorry…” Kennick said.
“You haven’t been drinking have you?”
Kennick shook his head. “Just juice, water, and food, as you said.”
Irix crossed her arms. “Have you been feeling sick today? Are you nervous? Did you drink tap water somewhere?”
Kennick shook his head again. He winced at a sharp jab of pain in his abdomen. “I think it’s passing.” And he thought he’d already adjusted to upper class tap water.
“Good.” She considered his face. “I have another couple of hours before we can leave. Can you make it that long?”
“Yes, I think so,” Kennick said. He felt like he was lying, but he thought he’d be fine sitting still and sipping water. If he could just be with his master, he’d be all right. People didn’t usually talk to him much if he was near her.
Half an hour later, the maid who’d shown him to the bathroom found him in the parlor, reclined in an easy chair near where his master sat at a table talking with colleagues. The maid offered a well-meaning smile and handed him a squat wine glass with a cloudy, fizzing liquid inside.
“For your stomach, sir,” she said quietly. She didn’t sound Diliken, or Arkanian as far as Kennick could tell. “I hope you’re feeling better.”
“Thank you.” Kennick flashed a wan smile as he took the glass. Irix glanced back, making eye contact first with Kennick, then the servant before giving a single, appreciative nod, and returning her attention to what the man across from her was saying.
The maid bobbed a respectful curtsy before pivoting around and taking her leave.
Kennick watched her go, gingerly raising the glass to his lips.
“Stacea,” Aría lowered her voice as she accompanied her back toward the kitchen. “That kid you don’t like? I think he’s with Irix Ingram.”
Stacea glanced back, the side of her nose scrunching up. “You were babying the apprentice of Irix Ingram?” She looked aside thoughtfully. “No wonder he smells strange.”
“She has an apprentice?”
“How did you find out who he was?”
“He was sitting by her in the parlor when I gave him soda water.”
Stacea brought a hand to her forehead. “Aría, that’s not your job.” She looked up at her. “Wait—you mean you were close to his master?”
“We made eye contact…Can you believe that?”
“You not only handed her apprentice an unapproved beverage, but you handed it to him right in front of her? She could have thought it was poison, for all we know. What if she took offense?”
“She looked kind of grateful, actually.” Aría ducked her head. She lowered her voice further as they entered the kitchen, “I just wanted to help the kid. He looked so miserable. And the posh and starch of these sort of things are bad enough without throwing up in a king’s bathroom—”
Stacea shot her a warning look as they neared the table where the kitchen staff was busily filling trays with more appetizers.
Aría picked up a tray. “He’s with his master now. I’ll leave him alone, all right?”
Stacea’s lips tightened as she picked up a tray of her own. “That would be best.”