Home > Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(8)

Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(8)
M.J. Haag

“Go,” she said. “I’ll find my own food and meet with you here when we’re both finished.”

I nodded and left the room with Father.

“You seem to have found a way to keep yourself busy,” he said.

“Yes. I can see now why two maids are needed.”

Father made a noise between agreement and amusement.

“Lord Ruhall dismissed the other this morning.”

Poor Egrit, I thought. Then realized I should have thought poor me for I certainly would not leave Egrit alone to deal with those rooms.

“Are you happy here?” Father asked as we descended to the second floor. “I could still seek employment elsewhere.”

I loved him so much for the offer.

“I am content,” I said, though I wasn’t.

I followed Father toward the library. My nerves wound tightly as we neared. I swallowed hard as we entered the library and crossed the rugs to the study. Inside, a tray waited on a small table. Lord Ruhall sat behind his desk, reading something. He didn’t look up at our arrival.

His dark head of hair was so dissimilar to the shaggy coat of the beast. Yet, I found similarity in the position in which he held himself in as he read. The connection brought an ache to my middle, and I had to look away.

“Sit, Benella,” my father said. “I’d prefer you didn’t touch the food.” He winked at me and brought me my plate.

I sat and listened as Father and Lord Ruhall began to discuss estate accounts over our meal. Besides the maid, he’d let go one of the cooks as I’d suggested. The benign conversation and Father’s presence eased my mind over the possible reasons Lord Ruhall had asked for my attendance. I remained quiet, enjoying the break and the food, and as soon as I swallowed my last bite, I excused myself.

Egrit had already returned to cleaning on the third floor when I arrived.

We finished four rooms that day, and my back ached when I made my way to my room. Dust coated my skin, and my stomach begged for dinner, but I didn’t care. I barred both doors, stripped from my gown, ran the washrag over my face and arms, then crawled into bed.

Sleep claimed me quickly.

Again a noise woke me, the slight rattle of the door and a soft curse followed by silence. I smiled sadly and closed my eyes against the tears that wanted to run down my cheeks. I missed the beast.

* * * *

My days settled into a routine. Egrit and I continued to clear four rooms a day, I ate an amiable meal with Father and Lord Ruhall midday, and Lord Ruhall quietly tried my doors each night.

The pile in the main hall grew and shrunk as carts came and hauled away things for trade. Spare chairs from already over furnished rooms, a few mirrors where there were duplicates, scented candles—many, many scented candles—rugs from rooms where they overlapped; I even placed a few questionable portraits depicting women in various nude positions on the pile. Egrit said nothing as I rid the manor of them.

The first week expired with little notice as everyone worked from dawn to dusk. On the following day, I went to join Lord Ruhall and Father for the midday meal and arrived before Father. Lord Ruhall sat behind his desk as usual but set his book aside as soon as I entered. He didn’t mention my locked doors and kept the conversation strictly estate related as we waited for my father to join us.

Thankfully, Father didn’t leave us waiting long.

“The third cart just left. The estate now has three hundred twenty-three gold, sir,” Father said as he came into the room. “There were some portraits of value that the merchant was too eager to take. Egrit bargained the price higher than I would have thought to go.”

“Family portraits?” Lord Ruhall asked, concerned.

A choked noise escaped me.

“I should hope not,” I said.

“Ah.” He changed the subject. “Now, what to do with that amount?” he said, looking at me. It was the first time in a week he’d directed a question to me.

I took a moment to gather my thoughts.

“The primrose seeds have been harvested and re-sown, and the drive has been cleared,” I said. “I suggest bringing one hand inside. Egrit and I could use someone to carry the heavier items down the stairs. Then, set the other four to haying. There is enough time to put up a good supply for winter to allow for a horse or two, which we will need for tilling fields in spring.”

“The estate records did show a savings by planting our own crops. Do you have a different suggestion, Benard?” he asked, turning to my father.

“I think Benella’s suggestion the wisest choice and can offer nothing better than the purchase of a horse or two with that amount.” My father glanced at me with a smile.

Lord Ruhall agreed to my plan with one exception. All five workers would attend the fields, and he would help clear the top floor. My back didn’t care who helped so long as Egrit and I didn’t have to carry anything more down the stairs.

However, my easy agreement to his assistance came back to haunt me the following day. Often, when I looked up from whatever task occupied me, I found him watching with a nearly indecipherable expression. At times, it hinted at anger and expectation. At others, remorse. He was courteous and respectful toward Egrit and cautiously cool around me.

I could find no fault in his behavior, yet it angered me. My conversation with Henick echoed in my ears. Inside, I had changed. A bitterness existed where none had before, and I had no idea what to do with it. So I sought jobs that would keep me away from his company as he walked to and fro, bringing items to the main entry.

Egrit and I were working together in one of the smaller guest rooms to hang a rug out the window to shake the dust from it.

“We might be better off rolling them up and taking them all outside for a thorough airing,” Egrit said, eyeing the rug. Dust still stuck to it.

I nodded. I didn’t want to carry the thing down the stairs, but holding that much weight out the window strained my back fiercely.

Behind us, I heard footsteps on the wood floor.

“It’s time to eat,” Lord Ruhall said.

“A moment, please,” I said, helping Egrit pull the rug back in.

He waited by the door as she and I worked together to roll the rug. When I stepped toward him, he motioned for me to lead. We remained silent as we walked the halls.

In the study, Father waited for us. Lord Ruhall sat behind his desk as Father said there was nothing new to report. Our polite meal felt strained without estate affairs to discuss.

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