Chapter 20Where One Serves

Deirdre smiled and followed me through the castle. We headed down through the pale corridors again until we reached the dining area. There wasn't really a proper name for the room, filled with students and masters, eating. Smells here were a rough mix of ingredients and spices, together with some metal and of course the smell of many people. Sound was very present as well, with so many children, teens and adults talking to each other in varying degrees of volume. The children, who came here to study quite early, were mostly on the left, together with one or two supervising adults. The teens took up the middle and the right of the room with the parents in the back near the large windows.

Deidre grabbed my arms firmly, she didn't feel entirely at ease eating here and, if I was honest, neither did I. Fortunately it wasn't hard to get some food and eat outside. In fact that's what many people still did if they had to study for something, though the choice wasn't as popular when it was raining, there were always dry and quiet spots around the castle where one could eat. I guided us to the entrance of the kitchen and filled our plates with some food, nothing fancy. Just some fresh fruits and vegetables and some nicely spiced beef. Of course part of me knew that most in the city ate far worse than us, but this was very normal food here. There was just beer here, but that was fine, as it was usually quite decent quality. We both took a pint and I led us outside, back to the stables.

It wasn't going to rain today, but having a bale of hay to sit on was a nice convenience.

Deirdre smiled as she sat down next to me, she ate a bit of vegetable before she turned and spoke. "Is it always that crowded in there?"

I nodded. "Mostly. It doesn't vary a lot, but I suppose that's not strange for one of the largest Castles in the kingdom."

She smiled. "Rockwall's Castles are much smaller. Of course it would be much harder there to keep things unnoticed."

I smiled. "Exactly. If I were to try and become your lowly and loyal servant, my mistress, they would soon notice."

Deirdre surprised me by using a really snobby tone. "Certainly not! I have the right to a servant, even a grubby one." She then giggled and winked at me before returning her attention to the food.

I just looked at her blankly until I heard the giggling. "That was evil." I had to smile as well.

She stuck out her tongue. "Hush hush, servant, don't interrupt the mistress' dinner."

I took a few bites as well, surprised that the beef wasn't as spicy as I expected. "I thought things were supposed to be the other way around. Ah well, just shows how much I know."

We kept it up during dinner mostly, teasing each other between bites. We finished quickly and felt quite satisfied with the food. I brought the plates and pints back to the kitchen, the responsibility of anyone who didn't eat at the tables, and returned to Deirdre. A simple thought had come into my mind on what to do, but I wasn't sure if she would go for it. A luxury that was sometimes hard to find. A hot bath. When I got back to the stables I found her caressing the horse that brought us here, feeding him a little.

"Deirdre, would you like a bath?"

She looked at me, slightly surprised. "I'd love to, but I presume you don't have two baths, do you?"

I shrugged. "No, but we can go into town if you want to."

Deirdre slowly smiled and looked at me. "No, it's alright. I'll just go after you. I'm not in a rush."

I grinned. "And what about ladies first?"

"But isn't the servant supposed to wait for the master."

I glared at her. "You really use that any time it's convenient for you, don't you?"

She nodded. "Of course!"

I smiled. "Alright, you win then." Not that I minded that much. "We'll just both have a bath and go to bed."

Deirdre nodded and followed me out of the stables. We headed back into the castle, avoiding the busy auditorium where people were still eating. The corridors were fairly quiet, though small groups of students, usually no more than four, were gathered and talking here and there. No one even gave us a second glance, Deirdre had clothed herself well. When we got into my room, another surprise was waiting for us, but this one was very, very odd.

There was a new set of clothing on my bed that was of a much higher quality than the one I was wearing now. It looked like fairly protective but flexible leather that would come in handy on the trip tomorrow. But that wasn't what attracted the most of my attention. Two baths were set up, steaming gently in the cooler air of the room, looking invitingly alluring. I heard Deirdre gasp softly with surprise besides me, mirroring my own confusion. Of course all of this would have caused many more unanswered questions if there hadn't been a maid, standing politely in the center of the room. She spoke a few simple words as we walked in, as if that explained everything.

"I hope these are to your liking, sir, there are towels and soap near both of them. I will clean up tomorrow morning after your departure so please do not worry about a thing."

I blinked.

Who was she? I didn't immediately recognize her as standard staff. But it was hard to tell these days, when not many maids stayed at the Castle for long. Most of the Masters could be quite demanding. Who she was, was a thing for later.

So, more importantly, who sent her?