Home > Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(15)

Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(15)
M.J. Haag

“We need more information to know exactly what this feast entails. I’ll find Mr. Crow; you keep searching for Lord Ruhall.”

With purpose, I strode from the room.

* * * *

Mr. Crow proved as hard to find as Lord Ruhall. His usual post by the door was vacant as were the library and study. I left Father in the study to wait for Lord Ruhall while I continued my search. Near the kitchen, I heard voices.

“If the food preparation is complete, then use your time to polish the silver. Idle hands will not be tolerated here.”

“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Wimbly said with a bob of her head as I entered. Her gaze met mine, and I suspected we had the same thought. My hands, when idle, seemed tolerated well enough.

Looking away, I spotted a kettle on the block and realized I’d missed breakfast and the midday meal. My stomach rumbled hungrily but I knew I would not be welcomed to eat just then. After Mrs. Wimbly turned away to find an appropriate task for herself, I moved toward Mr. Crow.

“May I speak with you?”

“Certainly, Miss Hovtel,” he said formally.

He walked me to the cook’s personal room. The cookbooks that the beast and I had combed through were missing, the floor was scrubbed, and the window was open to let in the fresh air. Mr. Crow sat behind the desk.

“Is this your study now?”

“Yes. I made the mistake of ignoring the day-to-day activities of the staff in the past and will not repeat it.”

I wondered how an office in the kitchen helped that, but didn’t ask.

“Can you tell me about the harvest feast that used to be held here?”

“Large affairs that stopped long before Lady Ruhall left for the South, just after the current Lord Ruhall invited several...unsavory guests.”

That explained Rose’s note about appropriate guests.

“How many guests usually attended? Were certain families typically invited?”

“The harvest feast wasn’t as formal as the winter feast. The doors opened to whichever locals Lady Ruhall saw fit to invite. Music and dancing filled the ballroom, and the tables groaned with food in the dining room.” He sighed and looked out the window for a moment. “So many looked forward to the harvest feast. It was a time when the Lord and Lady did not stand above the rest. They joined them, listened to their problems, made merry with them. From Konrall to the Water, everyone looked forward to seeing an invitation delivered to their door.”

I withheld my cringe. Though inviting locals meant a less grand affair, it also possibly meant a larger number of guests.

“An estimate, Mr. Crow. How many guests do you recall hosting?”

“As many as would fill the ballroom.”

I sat in the chair across from his desk and set the letter before him. Sharing the information was necessary as it affected them all.

“Mr. Crow, Rose is placing a condition on the estate’s continued freedom. The tradition of the harvest feast must renew. When does the feast typically take place?”

Mr. Crow paled.

“After the harvests are complete. Another three or four weeks, perhaps.”

Four weeks. Three hundred coin. I bit my lip, thinking.

“How many servants did you have then? Twenty, wasn’t it?” I said, answering myself.

“Yes. That included the cooks, livery men, housemaids, and myself.”

The hopelessness in his tone caught my attention.

“Mr. Crow, do not give up before we start. We need an accounting of the stores. Every last thing from milk to wine, from wilted carrots to salted pork,” I said, standing.

“Where will you be, Miss?”

“The ballroom.”

I left the room and called for Egrit.

“I sent her to milk the goats,” Mrs. Wimbly said, sounding impatient.

“Please send Swiftly or Tam to milk the goats and have Egrit meet me in the ballroom,” I said as I walked toward the hall. I stopped, suddenly. “Oh, did Lord Ruhall say anything about the excess milk?”

She raised her nose a notch in the air.

“I have not yet approached him. Who are you to say—”

“Mrs. Wimbly,” Mr. Crow said, walking from his study. “Afford Miss Hovtel the same respect you would afford Lord Ruhall or you will find yourself without employment.”

His words surprised me. I wasn’t the only one. Mrs. Wimbly looked shocked, and it took a moment for her to give the barest of nods.

Mr. Crow turned his attention to the assistant cook.

“Kara, show me the cellars. We need an accounting.”

I was glad he wasn’t giving up.

“Mr. Crow, have all the milk from the cellar loaded into a wagon. Let me know when it’s done.”

“Yes, Miss,” he said.

Mrs. Wimbly still hadn’t moved from the cutting board.

“Get Egrit, please,” I said.

She nodded stiffly and left the room.

I strode through the halls, my heels striking the floor with determination. Rose would not win.

At the ballroom, I pushed open the doors. It wasn’t as I remembered it, and I wondered if Rose’s magic had enhanced it. Now, dust drifted in the thin streams of midday light that filtered in from the curtained windows. The large room echoed with my footfalls as I crossed to the windows and pulled back the drapes, one by one. Two sitting rooms opened from the ballroom, and balcony doors led to a tangle of vines. A dust rag wouldn’t be enough to set the rooms aright. It would take a shovel, several scrub brushes, and an army of help to fix fifty years of neglect.

“Benella?” Egrit said from the doors.

I pulled the balcony doors closed and turned to face her.

“Egrit, Rose expects the estate to host a harvest feast within four weeks.” I held out the letter to her.

Her shocked, pale expression matched Mr. Crow’s as she glanced down at the brief note. I looked around, and the same hopelessness crept up my spine.

“It will take us a week just to get this cleaned and polished.”

“The men are making good progress on the barn. Perhaps we could have two help in here,” Egrit said.

I shook my head and rid myself of any thoughts of futility.

“I have another idea. Where did the servants stay? The room off the kitchen has only four beds.”

“There’s room for three pallets on the floor. There are also rooms in the attic. That’s where I stay.”

“Will you show me?”

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