Just as they had with James and Poppy, the Rodericks kept Camille at Roderick Manor for some time, teaching her about the world and providing her supplies to begin a new life. My sister, never one for sitting and learning, found it incredibly dull, but I like to think she learned more than she would have if she hadn’t spent every night sitting up with me, telling me everything she had learned.
The rain was battering the castle, the skies dark with roiling thunder clouds. It was a wild storm, the worst one yet.
Abigail attacked the bread dough before her, her mouth set in a grim line. She and her father hadn’t been close, but she still feared for his safety out on the seas. If the storm was this bad on land, what was it like out in the open water?
Her father and the King had been gone for nearly a week. No word had been heard of them, but sightings of their ship from incoming injured soldiers seemed to appease the Queen, who had, two days before, finally retreated to her rooms, effectively leaving Adrian to rule the kingdom.
“My Lady,” a voice murmured at her elbow.
Startled, Abigail pulled her hands from the dough. A young girl standing at her elbow dipped her head as she quickly darted in to take the dough and replace it with more. As she left, Abigail drew in a deep, calming breath.
With gentler hands, Abigail went back to work. The three women who had been across from her had dwindled down to one young woman. She kept her head down, working quickly and efficiently, not even daring to sneak a peek at Abigail. But Abigail didn’t mind. After the last time she’d attempted to befriend a shy young woman in the kitchens, she wasn’t going to try again.
Besides, her mind was roiling as much as the sky was. Her conversation with Camille last night had been disturbing and confusing. Were Muriel and Madeline not mother and daughter? Had Muriel come from the linked world? What did Muriel mean she’d taken care of her and Madeline’s mother and father? And what kind of snake’s pit was Camille stuck in?
But it was also much more than that. With the King off at sea and the Queen sequestered, the ruling of the kingdom had fallen to Adrian. Kyanan had told her he’d barely slept and hardly touched any of the meals Abigail had brought him. It had stung her a little that he barely acknowledged her, but he had heavier things on his shoulders and she was determined to not add to it. After all, she had told him to win the war so he could court her. She could wait.
“I’d been wondering where you’d gotten off to,” a voice said at her shoulder.
Abigail shrieked and flung flour everywhere, startling the young woman on the other side of the table. Abigail barely paid the woman any attention, though, her eyes drawn to the elderly man standing beside her, a pipe in one hand and the other held behind his back as he stooped forward slightly.
She stared at him, blinking, having no idea who he was. Her back was to the table and her flour covered hands were clasping the edge of it behind her.
“May I help you?” she managed, her voice quiet and uncertain.
“Hm, you are Lady Abigail Olidan, aren’t you?” he asked, staring at her with sparkling blue eyes, a hint of a smile playing around his lips.
“Y-yes,” she answered. “My apologies, my Lord, I’m afraid I do not know you.”
He waved his pipe, the smile now filling his face. “No, you wouldn’t. You were but a child running through the halls when I served as one of the King’s councilors.” He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling. “You can call me Ephraim. At my age, you have no need for formalities.”
She just stared at him, unsure of what he wanted. Her mother would have given her a pointed look, prodding her to be polite, to force her to chatter inanely and at least pretend to be interested. But her mother was not here and she was officially being courted by the Crown Prince. She might be a Count’s daughter, but the fact that she would be Queen one day elevated her above everyone except the King, Queen, and Crown Prince. Part of her wanted to do her duty, but part of her rebelled, staying her tongue. After all, he was the one who had sought her out.
Ephraim didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. He pointed to the dough behind her with his pipe. “Helping to feed the castle, I see. A kind thing for a lady to do.”
“I do what I can,” she managed.
He nodded, seemingly to himself. A pensive look had fallen over his face. He looked her up and down before putting the pipe between his teeth and turning to walk away, nodding to himself as he ambled through the chaotic kitchens.
Abigail watched him go, bewildered. Once he was out of sight, she turned back and unexpectedly met the wide eyes of the young woman across the table from her.
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