“First, we need a report.” I flourished a bit of paper from the supply of finely crafted sheets my parents had insisted I use. “What should we do it on?”
“Well you already told the king your impressions of the concert hall, but we didn’t write them up. Plus we could sneak out by saying we’re going to enhance the memory of the concert and get a sense for the acoustics when the building is empty.”
I grinned at Teddy. “You’re good at that. Maybe you should write the report.”
“Hey! Who says I want to spend all day writing?”
“That’s just what happens when you’re so good at twisting words to make things sound official.”
Grabbing a pen, I folded the paper and put both in a satchel along with a few secreted devices not so easily found. “Shall we go?”
“What about breakfast?” Teddy asked.
“We’ll ask the cook for something to tuck into my bag.” I’d make sure to get a thermos of cocoa for him.
My parents were eager to let us be on our way to perform our supposed duty for the king, so they had no qualms about us missing Michael’s events. My brother glowered at me over the table; if only he knew what we were really trying to do.
We were walking out of the dining room when I jerked to a stop. Teddy was following too close and ran into my back, making a soft sound.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh. Yes. I’m fine. Sure.” I couldn’t believe I’d been so focused on destroying the machine that it was like I’d put on blinders.
Teddy put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Let’s go get some food.”
Cook started putting together a few bundles. “I noticed a few loaves of my fresh bread gone the other day,” she said as she tucked a nicely browned round loaf into a sack with some vegetables.
“Is that so?”
“Noticed Bettice wasn’t washing that many plates after breakfast, either.”
Teddy was a silent presence at my back. Cook intimidated him, even more than my parents. She was a formidable woman, and even more influential with the rest of the staff than Simon. Fortunately for us, she actually liked me.
“Well, a little less work never hurt anyone,” she said. “And the hungry souls who visited the kitchen took the irregular loafs with a bit of a dark crust on one end, so no harm done there.”
I grinned. “Good to hear.”
We’d visited the concert hall, took a break for lunch so Teddy could dictate the report—though I wrote it—and then I hailed a carriage to the palace. Unsure of our reception, Teddy and I were cautious as we were shown to a study. We didn’t see the king; I didn’t expect to report to him, but I was unhappy when I saw Varket behind the desk.
“Busy at work, already?” He smirked at me and leered at Teddy.
“Yes.” I crossed my arms over my chest as a servant handed over our report. Teddy stood at my back once again. For once, I wished I was a big as Michael, so I could hide him behind me fully.
Varket thumbed through the pages. “Thorough.”
We were going to need time and a reason to come back more frequently than the king had dictated as the minimum reports. “We’d like to arrange for the musicians to return without the audience, so we can assess the impact the different arrangements have on various areas of the audience hall.”
He leaned back in his chair. “You’re taking this seriously, aren’t you?”
I lifted an eyebrow. “The king himself charged us with this task. I do not wish to disappoint him or shame my family.”
“No, no, of course not.” He scrawled a message in the margin of our report. “I’ll see what I can do about getting the orchestra available for your testing. In the meantime, we have a list here of various other facilities the king wishes for you to assess.”
The page took the list from Varket and trotted it over to us and then he slipped back to his place in the corner. What a waste of time; I could’ve just taken it from him. How many unnecessary servants were lining the walls in this place?
How were we going to sneak past them? Unless we could turn it to our favor. I eyed the young page. He looked like he was trying to disappear. If he was gifted with Varket’s stares, like the one the vulgar man was still giving Teddy, I didn’t blame him.
Perhaps he was our ticket to finding our way through the maze of the palace.
I glanced at the list in my hand, then slowed down, reading through the various locations.
“Is there a problem?”
Varket’s voice interrupted my focus. I jerked my head up. “No. If there’s nothing else, we’ll be going.” I needed to talk to Teddy privately.
“Of course. I’ll see you again soon.” Varket motioned for his page to see us out.
“Hi. My name is Will. This is Teddy,” I said. He trotted ahead of us, nodding left and right at other servants. “What’s your name?”
“William.” He smiled over his shoulder. “Like you, but Sir Varket says my full name is more befitting his page.”
I smiled back. “We’ll call you Will, if you like it better. You know, I’ve never met another Will close to my age before.”
“So, Will, how long have you been working at the palace?”
“My mother is a scullery maid, so I’ve been here my whole life.”
“How neat,” Teddy said. “I heard there are all sorts of ghosts here. Have you ever seen one?” He shivered. “The thought gives me the willies.”
“Oh yeah! I know lots of stories.”
“What about skeletons? Ever seen one of them?”