Chapter 1

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Luel glared at the massive fish laid out on the kitchen table and its large glassy eye stared balefully back at her.

"A roast chicken would be nice," the little kitchen maid muttered with more hope than expectation, all the while twisting her hands in her clean pinafore.

Ignoring the girl, Luel picked up the knife and pointed it at the fish with what she hoped was an air of confidence. "You don't frighten me," she said, disregarding the look of anxiety in the maid's eyes. The girl was becoming used to her new mistress's eccentricities but admittedly threatening already dead fish was a new one.

There was an expression of disgust from behind her as she made the first cut. "Torny, if all you're going to do is squeal, you can go and light the fire in the sitting room."

"Yes, Ma'am." The girl bobbed a curtsey and scurried from the kitchen as fast as she could.

Luel sighed with relief. Eavan had insisted on the kitchen maid and a full time gardener as the bare minimum he would allow. If he had his way there would've been a maid for every room and Luel would have spend her days twiddling her thumbs and going out of her damn mind.

It was true the beautiful brick house set in thirty acres of gardens and orchards was a far cry from the tiny dilapidated cabin in Dark Wood, but Luel had found it hard to spend her days with anyone other than Eavan and often resented the girl's presence. She liked to be busy and enjoyed her solitude if she couldn't be with her new husband. It still frustrated her that she couldn't work or do something useful with her life but she was damned if she was going to sit embroidering and sipping tea. She had left that life behind and was grateful for it. Torny was sweet but too young to be good company to her. The gardener wasn't so bad as he would simply go and work elsewhere if she was outside. But Torny had not long left her family and needed company and Luel tried hard not to be impatient with her. She didn't always succeed.

An hour later and Luel slid the fish pie into the oven with a smile of satisfaction.

"It don't look half bad," Torny said, her eyebrows raised.

Luel tutted and flicked her with the tea-towel. "Well you needn't sound so surprised," she huffed. The girl giggled and Luel shooed her away.

"Go on, off with you," she said, shaking her head and smiling.

Torny looked at the clock, her eyes wide. "But I got another hour yet."

"I know," Luel said, suppressing a grin. "Aren't you lucky."

"Ooh, thank you, Ma'am." Torny grabbed her coat and stuffed her hat over her thick brown hair, yelling, "See you tomorrow, Ma'am," over her shoulder as she ran out the door.

Luel sighed with relief and and headed upstairs.

***

Eavan looked over the new recruits with the eye of a connoisseur and gave a heavy sigh. He had agreed to give them the once over for his new employer the Prince Corin. As Stallari he was head of the Crown Prince's guard and such things should be below his interest, but the Prince was concerned about the quality and training of the men as a whole and wanted his army shaken up. He had given Eavan free reign to engage, dismiss or discipline as he saw fit and that being the case the new arrivals were as important as those already established in their positions. The ongoing recruitment drive was beginning to bear fruit, though Eavan wasn't entirely sure that some hadn't rotted on the branch. The Prince had been frank about his lack of care and attention to his men in the past. He spent too much time drinking and womanising to spend the time he should on his responsibilities and now Eavan's skills were sorely needed. He had told Eavan he would try and take a more active interest in the matter from now on but there was something in the Prince's eyes that made Eavan believe he was running still.

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