The next morning Adwin spent much of his time wandering around the manor. He was impatient for Tipper’s arrival and also dreading it. Calathy was busy in the kitchen, Mokha was still sleeping and he found Addath in the small library.
Addath had her hair down. She looked up from the papers she had been reading and smiled, “Lord Greensly fancies himself as a writer. It’s so bad, it’s hard to stop reading. The man sees the world through very peculiar lenses. Apparently being well presented is more important than everything else, closely followed by ones station in life.”
“There seems to be some truth to that, at least here in GreensBridge.”
Adwin stood by the window, watching the outside. It was snowing again. There were a few people out and about, typically walking in small groups, the streets were slushy and there were few carriages out. Addath came over and lit a cigarillo, they watched the neighbourhood for a while in silence.
When she was done smoking Addath suggested going down to the kitchen, Adwin thought it a good idea. The delicious smells of cooking food made his stomach gurgle and he realized he was hungry. When they arrived they found a sleepy headed Mokha in the process of making coffee. There were pots on the fires, pots on the stoves and various treats in the ovens.
Mokha brightened considerably, “Ah, reinforcements.”
Adwin investigated all the cooking foodstuff, “Where is Calathy?”
“She went with the three children.”
“The two scullery maids you met and one of the stable lads.”
“Ah, it’s nice they get to be with their families.”
“Calathy thought it would be better for them than staying here.”
Addath asked, “Is there anything here I shouldn’t eat?”
Mokha looked and the mounds of food in the kitchen, “Just the stuff that’s cooking now.”
Adwin peeked into one of the ovens, “These sweet breads look like they should come out.”
“Ah, yes. She said something about that. Can you manage? I’m having difficulties boiling water right now.”
“No problem.” Addwin took the three loaves out of the oven and put them on the sideboard to cool. “Calathy seems really sweet.”
Mokha laughed, “Nice.”
Adwin did not understand. “Excuse me?”
A brief look of confusion crossed Mokha’s face then he smiled, “Accidental that may have been, but I thought calling the cook sweet was a nice play on words.”
“Oh, right. Ha ha.”
Addath was munching on sour tarts, “Mm, these are good.”
Adwin joined her at the table, “I know. Baker Brothers. My favourite bakery.”
She took a couple more, shoving one in her mouth. Just then there was a heavy pounding on the kitchen door and a gruff voice demanded they open up.
Mokha, set the kettle back on the stove and went to the door, Adwin stood up and moved over to where the knives were kept. Addath seemed confused. Someone pounded on the door again, “Open up!”
Mokha swung the door wide, stepped back and raised his hand. Tipper stood in the door, big smile on her face, sack of food in one arm and a large satchel over one shoulder. Snow covered her hood and shoulders. “Happy Yuletide!”
She stomped her feet before entering, gave a quick glance at Addath, then she passed Adwin the food she was carrying. “Thanks.”
Mokha took a look outside and then shut the door, “Where’s Setta?”
Tipper stopped, a confused look on her face, “What do you mean?”
Mokha started to look agitated, “I mean where’s Setta?, I thought she’d be coming with you.”
“Oh, no. I thought you had invited her.”
“What do you mean? I though you had invited her.”
Adwin was confused as well, but the deflated look of disappointment on Mokha’s face was heartbreaking. He was about to say something conciliatory to him when Tipper stepped over to the door and swung it wide open. Setta Vrith stood there, or so Adwin assumed, bundles in arms, somewhat snow covered and a big smile on her face.
Mokha perked up.
Setta and Tipper laughed, “Had you going there for a moment, didn’t we?”
“Ha, ha. You two are evil to play with a lad’s heart with such disregard.”
“Hi, I’m Adwin, I can take those.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Setta.”
“Setta, Tipper, this is Addath”
Addath stood up, “Nice to meet you.”
Adwin paused to watched as Tipper and Addath checked each other out. There was a moment or two of silence, then Addath offered a hand, another tense moment passed as Tipper considered the proffered gesture. Then Tipper shook hands and pulled Addath in for a hug. She gave Adwin an odd look over Addath’s shoulder. The embrace ended, Setta passed Tipper her cloak then also gave Addath a hug, “Happy Yule.”
Adwin stashed the food then took the ladies winter wear to the nearby work room and hung them to dry. When he returned to the kitchen Mokha had resumed his efforts to make coffee, the three women sat at the table and were helping themselves to sweat tarts. Listening to the three of them talk Adwin was distinctly aware of Addath’s Maldorn accent, something he had become used to over the last couple of months.
Mokha fiddled with the coffee for a bit, “Alright, we’ll let that sit for a while. I’m going to see about lighting some fires.”
Setta offered, “Need a hand?”
“No, everything is set, I just have to get them burning.”
Adwin busied himself checking on the food that was still cooking, he swung a couple of the pots away from being directly over the fires then pulled out some of the baked goods. When he paused he became aware that the three women had been watching him work. He smiled, a bit embarrassed to be under such beautiful scrutiny. “What?”
Setta smiled, “It just nice to see a man who is comfortable in the kitchen.”
Adwin returned the smile, “Well, if a lad can’t cook and clean then he’s only really fit to be someones husband. I can mend too.”
They found that amusing. Setta said, “I think I’m going to like you Adwin.”
Mokha bustled back into the kitchen, “Alright, who wants some coffee?”
They all had some, even Adwin who generally found the bitter taste a bit much. There was a big pot of honey in the kitchen however and he put a dollop in his coffee. Mokha scrunched his face up a bit seeing Adwin do this, but said nothing.
Calathy bustled through the door, “Oh, hello everyone.”
Introductions went around, outdoor clothing was hung in the workroom and they all gathered around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating sweets. After a while Calathy checked the food that was still cooking and banked one of the fires. They ate their fill and drank the pot of coffee, the small talk petered out and a contented silence settle through the group. They listened to the wind gusting outside for a while. Setta gave a contented sigh.
Mokha eventually suggested, “Should we do a quick tour around the house? We thought it best to limit ourselves to the back of the manor, there’s lots of wood stocked for the fires.” They toured through the building, were shown the bathing room, where Mokha already had a fire going underneath the huge copper tub. Then they went upstairs and Mokha showed them the games room and the music room. He took them up to the third level to the servants quarters, showed them his room, then Calathy’s room. He suggested that anyone needing some quiet time or sleep could do so in either room.
Lastly they went back down to the second level and Mokha swung the double doors to the master bedroom wide open, a huge four poster bed was the centrepiece of the room, the draperies had been pulled back, incense was burning and a warm fire popped and crackled in the hearth. Mokha let a moment or two pass, for dramatic effect, then said, “Should the need arise, this seemed like the most spacious of play rooms.”
Setta giggled, Calathy looked the rest of them over, blushing hard but smiling, Addath and Tipper checked each other out again. Mokha seemed entirely too pleased with himself. Adwin suggested, “Does anyone feel like some music or some games? I noticed a huge trees and traps board in the game room.”
Mokha raised his arms above his head, “Yes! Music, gaming, food and drink. We will feast and smoke until the year is gone and then feast and drink as the new one begins!”
Companionably they retreated to the gaming room. Adwin helped Calathy bring some food up from the kitchen. Mokha fetched a lute and then a water pipe. As the morning turned to afternoon they played trees and traps, Tipper was the first to give up on the game, having landed on the goblin more often than all the others combined, Mokha dropped out next, fired up the hookah then played some music for a while. Calathy seemed intent on Adwin, she sat next to him during the gaming and was pleasantly affectionate. Addath gave up on the game after a couple of puffs from the water pipe, she then spent the next while intently inspecting some of the art in the room.
At one point, Addath had gone off to put wood on the various fires that were burning and Calathy and Setta had gone to the kitchen to get a hot meal prepared. Mokha finished his song and looked to the other two.
Tipper asked, “Your friend is Maldorn Adwin, she has the feel of a company woman. Where did you meet her?”
Adwin sighed deeply, “She’s my boss. I’ve been working for Roburns Trading Company, I started on the docks, then became a clerk. Now, I’m an agent in training.”
Tipper looked incredulous, Mokha however spoke up first, “Ironically, we think we’ve come up with a way to deal with the Fingures situation, Adwin’s employers will be instrumental in this plan and with a bit of help from the Arcanium I’m pretty sure we can sweep the Fingures threat from the city.”
Tipper was a bit taken aback, “Just like that eh, how so?”
“We’ll get into the details later, but Adwin and his boss have been charged by their company to acquire certain Fingures properties and, as you know, the Arcanium is interested in them for other reasons.” Mokha paused and looked to Adwin, who shrugged and nodded.
Tipper was about to say something, but Mokha spoke up again, “It was us two that robbed the Fingures and made the report to the Arcanium about their hoard of magic items.” Tipper’s mouth audibly snapped shut, her forehead creased as her frown deepened.
“The thing is, we’re going to have to let both Setta and Addath in on the truth of the situation for the plan to work well. Given the season and the delicate nature of the situation, it seems like the sort of thing best saved for the new year.”
Tipper stood, then began pacing. She looked to one, then the other. Her jaw was tight and her brow remained furrowed. Adwin went over to her and held out his hands, looking her in the eyes, “I know you’re upset, I’m sorry I lied to you.”
She stood in front of him a moment, then her scowl softened, she put her hands in his, “At least you did not let the new year settle before telling me.”
“I have a couple of things for you, Yuletide gifts. If you think you can hold off murdering me for a bit, I’d like to give them to you.” He tentatively started leading her from the room. She resisted a moment, then relented. As they left Adwin glanced over his shoulder, Mokha winked and gave him a thumbs up.