The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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26. Observations of the Nobility

After the feast, the Jarl left angrily, refusing the hospitality of the palace. Instead he agreed to stop at the halls of Lord Bern, which were on his route to the coast. A ship would be waiting at Kennis to take him to Andaro, where he would be fed better prawns, and not have to stomach such humiliating insults.

“That was dangerous,” said the doctor. “Here, change back into your normal clothes and hurry round to the forge. I want to know if you notice anything as they leave.”

But at the stables, Ashlin found another spy of the Crown Office, saddling the visitor’s horses and even accepting a gratuity of a few coins from the bleary, shifty-eyed Lord Bern. He hung back, reasoning that if anyone recognised the blacksmith as the wine-pourer, that might be construed as a further insult, and that didn’t seem like a good idea. Besides, Jenna was doing so well.

The lords left, and Ashlin laughed out loud.

“What do you look like!”

“I’m a stable-boy, innit?”

“I hope that voice wasn’t part of your disguise. Because, really, no. Just don’t.”

“No, kept my mouth shut. Mostly I relied on the haircut. Does it suit me?”

“It’s a bit short.”

“Very practical, I call it.”

“Yeah, I like it. It’s adorable.”

“Shut up! You prefer boys now?” Jenna swatted him on the arm. “Everyone else was in some kind of terrible disguise. I was standing back here watching it all, rolling my eyes. What do you think, do I look more like a stable boy or does Green look more like a footman? No wonder the Jarl had a man tasting his food.”

“Who told you that?”

“Doctor Hopkin. It seemed to worry him.”

“So you think the Jarl might have suspected an attempt on his life?”

“Not necessarily. He might always have a food taster. Or maybe when he saw how the palace employs the most mismatched and unqualified idiots as servants, he had grave doubts about the cook.”

Doctor Hopkin was approaching.

“Did you find out anything? Is he very angry?”

Jenna shrugged. “I should think so. But I didn’t overhear anything interesting. Was the plan to make him as angry as possible so he comes back and burns this place to the ground when he becomes king? Because if so, that may well have come off.”

“No, that wasn’t the plan at all,” said the doctor, fretting and worrying at the buttons on his coat.

“Pity, because as I see it, that was a straightforward plan with a good solid chance of success. Whatever the real plan was, do you think it worked?”

“I don't know whether to hope so, or not. Ashlin, did the Jarl like his prawns, do you think?”

“He only ate part of one of them. I would have to say: not much.”

Doctor Hopkin sighed.

“Who were the men with the colourful hair? Their horses were beautiful,” said Jenna.

The doctor looked around.

“I don’t know how much I can tell you about that. Ash, do you now understand why Doctor Grey could not be here?”

“I think so. And Jenna, I think I have solved another mystery, too. Or at least, a tiny part of one. Doctor, I still don’t understand why we mustn’t have a king. I can understand how it’s going to be difficult having a king that angry. But really that wasn’t our fault and he’ll calm down. Maybe he won’t be so bad when everyone is flattering him and bowing like kings expect, instead of threatening to stab him through the head with wooden cutlery.”

“I’m sorry I missed that,” said Jenna, “who was it did that?”

“One of the men with colourful hair, as you put it,” said Doctor Hopkin, “Perhaps you would both like to retire with me to the library to discuss this. I don’t have all the facts at my fingertips.”

The library was unlit, and dusk was already deep outside, but the doctor led them inside even so, shutting the door, and shutting out the candle-light of the corridor outside.

“If this is story time again, I don’t think you’re going to be able to read to us in here,” said Jenna.

The doctor coughed politely. There was a woody scraping noise, then a soft click.

“I think I’ll take on the role of story teller,” said Doctor Grey’s voice, “I can see quite well in the dark, you know.”

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