“So after talking with the guard, I just found out that some of them even have to work farming jobs to supplement their income!” Viola dug into her dessert with vigor. After taking a bite, she looked at Nalus incredulously. “I mean, if we are supposed to have guards, they should at least have enough money to make guarding our lives their top priority, right?”

Nalus shrugged. “Vlad may have agreed, but there were never enough funds to pay them.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Viola finished the dessert, and stood up. The maids immediately removed her plate, and the remaining food, and opened the kitchen doors. Once again, Nalus wished that Viola wouldn’t have her meals in the kitchen. It was truly undignified.

“Some guard supplemented their income in other security pursuits.” Nalus struggled to keep up with Viola as she rushed back towards her quarters. After dinner, Viola usually tried to disappear from view, but not tonight. Tonight was too important. But if he just followed her, she would just dismiss him. He had to keep this dialogue going.

“Security pursuits?” Viola asked.

“The other nobles. Or merchants. Even the local taverns. Everyone can use some added security.”

“Muscle, Nalus.” Viola corrected. “Everyone can use a thug who is trained to follow orders.”

“There is that.”

“Well, I would rather they not have the opportunity to use them against me.” Viola reached her bedroom door, and winked at Nalus. “Sorry, but a girl must have some secrets.”

She shut the door in his face. The old counselor rubbed his eyes, and suppressed a groan. He could hear her, feel her mocking him.

He waited a few minutes, and then knocked on the door.

“Who is it?”

“It is still Nalus, countess,” he said through gritted teeth. “Are you decent?”

“I am never decent, Nalus.” Her giggle floated through the wood paneling. “Is there something you want?”

“May I enter?”

“Nalus!” She could feign shock through a door. “What would the servants say?”

“That I am twice your senior, and the look on my face truly denotes nothing of pleasure?” Nalus spotted a pair of serving boys around the corner. His scowl sent them packing.

The door creaked open. Viola’s grin was plastered all over her face.

“Then enter, dear pleasure-less one.”

Nalus followed her in. Closed the door…almost. Left it open just a crack for propriety’s sake.

As he turned back, Viola was already snuggled into a chair by the fireplace. Gone were her silks and fine dresses. Instead, a simple slip, with a fine fur blanket wrapped around her for warmth and decency. Her face, and smile, peeked out from underneath the folds.

“What is it, Nalus?”

“Countess, we did not finish our conversation on the economics of the guard…”

“Blah, blah, snore…” her head dipped back into the blanket. “We pay the guards, and then have peace of…”

“With what, countess?” Nalus asked. “The nobles are starting to miss tax payments.”

“I make them.”

“As simple as that.”

Viola poked her head out of the blanket. “Speak normal, Nalus. We’re alone, I won’t be…”

“Can you stop playing stupid, and think for a second?”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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