Petronus’s office adjoined the converted guest room that Neb and Isaak worked from. The steward had insisted that he have privacy and wouldn’t hear of him using his living quarters as his work space. Instead, they moved a small desk, some bookshelves and three chairs into a large walk-in closet. The closet even had a small window that opened out on one of the manor’s many gardens. As spring hurried on, Petronus could smell the flowers blooming, though of course he had to stand on his desk to see them.
He looked up the knock on his door. “Come in,” he said.
Neb came in first, and Petronus swore that every time he saw the boy he was taller. His shoulders had broadened and he even had the beginnings of a beard, trimmed.as neatly as a boy could manage. He wore the robes smartly, though he still walked in them as if they weren’t really his, as if he weren’t really a member of the Order. “You called for us, Excellency?”
Petronus nodded. The Gypsy King surprised him, abruptly vanishing after Sethbert’s capture. Rudolfo was a wily one, but like his father, his sense of duty anchored him. When he concluded with whatever private matter he attended to, Rudolfo would be back to finish the work he’d started here, because like Petronus, he would do what he was made for. “I’m sure he’ll turn up,” Petronus said.
“Yes, Father.” Isaak turned to the door. “If that is all, I have a meeting with the bookbinders to discuss logistics.”
Petronus forced a smile. “Thank you, Isaak.”
The metal man left, and Petronus relaxed in his chair. Outside he heard a child laughing, and for the briefest moment his nose filled with the smell of salt water and freshly caught fish as the laughter evoked unexpected memory. His feet could nearly feel the warm wood of the boat docks slapping at them as he raced a young Vlad Li Tam for his father’s waiting boat.
The sudden image of his friend as a boy flooded Petronus with sadness. Beneath that sadness, he knew, lived a terrible wrath toward someone he once loved as a brother.
“I was made for this,” Vlad Li Tam had told him long ago when Petronus had asked him if he ever wondered what his life would’ve been if he weren’t Lord Tam of House Li Tam. Afterward, they’d gone fishing together for the last time, and it had almost touched the magic of earlier days, before destiny had
found and chained them.
I should go fishing, he thought. Surely one of the servants or Gypsy Scouts could point him toward rod and tackle. The river that cut through town was not very wide, but he’d seen deep patches of green beneath the shade of the trees that lined its edge, and he knew that trout rose in it, their brown backs rippling the water as they fed.
But in the end, Petronus stayed at his desk and worked until his eyes blurred and his hand ached, unshackling himself from the desk long after the sound of frogs filled the forest-scented night beyond his window.
“What I was made for,” he said quietly to that dark.