The Blood Spell (Ravenspire, #4)(5)

“Lunch is here!” Papa sang as he entered the storeroom.

Blue looked up from a bubbling pot of fennel, scrub leaf, and ground cobalt, blinking in surprise at Papa, who stood in the doorway holding a bag from the Bronze Whale, their favorite pub. “It’s lunchtime already?”

Papa smiled as he moved into the room. “Lost track of time again, eh?”

Blue rubbed her eyes and stretched her back. “I was focused on new ways to work the lead into gold tonight.”

“Keep your voice down,” Papa said, even though Blue hadn’t spoken loudly. He cast an anxious glance over his shoulder, as if worried someone might have found a way inside their locked shop to overhear.

Blue’s gaze followed his and landed on the pile of deliveries still sitting neatly on a shelf beside the door that led to the alley behind the shop. She frowned. “Ana didn’t show up today.”

“What time were you expecting her?” Papa set the bag down on Blue’s worktable, sending a small puff of ground cobalt into the air. “And have you ever considered wiping down your table as you work?”

Blue tapped a finger to her lips and then winced at the sharp, unpleasant flavor of whatever residue was still on her hands. “She should’ve met me at the market. And I’ll clean up when I’m done. It’s a waste of time to stop and wipe things down every few minutes.” She removed the bubbling mixture from the heat and set it on a rack to cool. Turning, she found Papa already cleaning the table. “I said I’d clean it when I’m done.”

“I’m not eating in the middle of . . . whatever all this is.” Papa gestured with his rag at the bits and pieces of the ingredients Blue had used throughout the morning. “Last time I did that, my tongue went numb for nearly an hour, and I had to wait on customers while sounding like I’d had a pint too many with my noon meal.”

Blue grinned at the memory, and Papa flashed her a warm smile as he placed his cleaning rag neatly on the side of the storeroom’s sink and rejoined her at the table. “I bought baked gelleire fish sandwiches and carrot soup.”

“Sounds delicious. Thank you.” Blue pulled a chair up to the table and accepted her lunch, but her gaze kept straying to the deliveries. She needed Ana to be reliable.

If she had been offered a quick job with better pay by one of the richer merchants in the quarter, she’d be back soon enough to resume her regular duties as the Mortar & Pestle’s delivery girl, but until then, Blue had to find another way to get the orders to their customers.

Blue took a big bite of her sandwich, closing her eyes as she savored the flaky, buttery crust, the mild flavor of the fish, and the hint of heat from the sweet pepper sauce the Bronze Whale was known for.

“Will the princess be coming for her tutoring session today?” Papa asked as he pried the lids off small wooden cups of carrot soup, releasing the fragrance of ginger, brown sugar, and stewed carrots.

Blue nodded as she reached for her soup, earning a stern glance from Papa as he saw her hands.

“You want your tongue to go numb too?” he asked.

She hastily put her sandwich down and moved to the sink to wash while she thought about her upcoming time with Nessa and the pile of packages that still needed to be delivered. Usually, she and the princess spent several hours together while Blue taught her the basics of alchemy—a science for which Nessa had shown aptitude, and which the queen was happy to allow her to study while she focused on ruling the kingdom and grooming Nessa’s older brother to take the throne. Today, however, Blue didn’t have hours. She had deliveries that had to reach the shop’s customers before the day’s end. The shop did well enough, but it couldn’t withstand losing regular customers over poor service.

Blue was going to have to check the street for any children hoping for a job, though she couldn’t trust the shop’s deliveries to someone she didn’t know, so that narrowed down the possibilities. Maybe she’d do the deliveries herself. If she hurried through lunch, used the moss glider venom she’d just bought from Maurice to finish the queen’s headache cream, and then cut the tutoring session short, she could—

“Stop thinking so hard and come eat while your food is still hot.” There was a smile in Papa’s voice.

Blue obeyed, smiling and nodding along to Papa’s stories of the morning’s customers. When lunch was finished, Papa began dusting shelves while Blue gathered the ingredients she needed for the queen’s headache cream: beeswax, pressed almond oil, dried tryllis weed, essence of wintermint, and a few drops of the venom. She added a log to the stove and set a pot of water to boil on it and then placed a shallow pan over the bubbling liquid. The chunk of beeswax went into the shallow pan, where it immediately started to melt. When it was fully liquefied, she measured a thimble of almond oil, poured it into the wax, and reached for the wintermint, her lips pressed into a thin line.

It had been ten years since Blue had sat beside Mama’s damaged body in their root cellar, surrounded by spilled wintermint and the broken ladder that kept Blue trapped instead of running for help. Ten years since she’d watched Mama die, but the smell sometimes bothered her still.

The spicy sweetness of wintermint filled the air as Blue added a pinch of it to her mixture. A sprinkling of dried tryllis weed dotted the mixture with flecks of purple, and then Blue carefully added two drops of venom. Just enough to numb the queen’s headaches without poisoning her. Blue had tried the dose on herself three times last week, just to be sure.

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