From The Movement of Rings, second in The Movement of Crowns Series
“Naona!” a startled, aggravated scream pierced through the early morning peace of the four-storied maidservants’ house, ricocheting against the chamber and corridor walls and being answered by the vibrant laugh of a fleeing offender. A few of the women in the house, aroused prematurely from their sleep, got up and poked their drowsy heads out of their bedroom doorways to see black tresses, a white nightgown, and bare feet flashing by, the accompanying laughter escaping farther through a third floor hallway and disappearing down a stairwell.
Seconds later, those bare feet dashed through a side door and outside, taking off through the dewy grass of one of the gardens gracing the grounds of the sprawling estate, leaving behind more women awakening to a spreading commotion. Mischievous giggles rode the air on the way across the garden and over to the apothecary’s quarters, where the slender fingers of a rosy brown hand did not knock before pressing down the front door latch, pushing the door wide open.
The short, balding man puttering about his quarters’ kitchen paused from his breakfast preparations and turned to look, with a minimal measure of surprise, at the triumphant young woman standing across the way in his sitting room entrance, letting in the chill morning air. “What worked?” he asked her.
“The spices. I had only to sprinkle a pinch under Fauri’s nose, and she shook and sneezed right awake! What a potent mixture. She might still be sneezing, if she has not yet had the sense to stop yelling for me and to go douse her face.”
The man issued a groan. “Bah—Naona! For the sake of the stars! Why must you use my mixtures to torment your friends so?”
“And why must you always gripe about it?” Naona laughed. “You knew precisely what I would do when you gave the spices to me.”
“Of course I knew what you would do, but again, why must you? Toenails being turned green, bowls of reeking liquids hidden behind curtains and smelling up rooms, itch-inducing herbs being flicked upon the backs of unsuspecting necks, and now sneezing people out of their sleep! You are past full grown. Have not you gotten on in years to continue such pranks?”
“I have just reached my twenty-third year, hardly an old—”
“Bah!” the apothecary interrupted. “And look at you. Barging into my quarters first thing in the morn in your nightclothes and unshod feet! Are you trying to get me killed, nise?”
“Nothing of the sort,” Naona answered, stepping inside the sitting room and closing the front door behind her. “Everyone is too preoccupied with the war up north to have any useless thought of killing you. Besides, I never injure anyone or cause permanent damage, and nobody cares about my making harmless visits to a little old man.”
“I am not a little old man, thank you, and these visits are in no way harmless,” the apothecary argued, wiping his hands on the smock covering his tunic and trousers and puttering his way out of the kitchen toward Naona. “Not when you constantly use my remedies to wreak your havoc. I am trying to teach you to be a healer, and yet you are only becoming more of a pain in the empire’s backside. Our master has never kept a tight enough rein on you.”
“Reins are for horses.” Naona leaned down to plant a smacking kiss on the hairless crown of the man’s head as he approached her. “And a good morning to you too, pilo.”
“It was, before you crashed in upon it like a reckless hawk. And this mop of yours, flying about.” He waved fussy fingers around Naona’s head before he took her hand. “Do something with it, will you? I ought not to see your hair unbound, you beautiful thing. I am not your man. Here, come and sit for tea and an egg,” he bid her, tugging her toward the kitchen.
“Two eggs, please,” Naona requested, stumbling at the apothecary’s haste, her free hand going up to her hair. “But you will have to excuse my head. I did not bring anything for it.”
“I trust that you have brought room to put something in it though, no? I have a mixture to teach you after we eat. It is for pallid fever.”
While the unlikely but enduring pair of them sat and chatted over breakfast, Naona giving the apothecary a teasing wink over her steaming teacup, the man shook his head, thinking as he often did that this maidservant favorite of their master’s, King Aud of Munda, was much too appealing for her own good.
An indomitable princess. A beautiful prankster. A young, untried king of a powerful Realm.
Don’t miss The Movement of Crowns Series