The woman regarded him with a craftiness that didn’t match her apple cheeks and corkscrew curls. “I might not be able to get these done in time for your next workout.”
Embor drew himself up to his full height. “I have several sets.”
“The others aren’t ready either. You’ve been exercising so much lately. One might think you were working off steam.”
That was no secret. Court became contentious as Primary assessments approached. At least he’d quit attempting to convince the Elders to fund a full-scale humanspace search mission and had redirected his energies. They were foolish to ignore the danger posed by the renegade agents and their insider knowledge about the AOC. Embor was many things, but he wasn’t a fool.
But he did need to enhance his stamina with moderate exercise. If he encountered Anisette in the gardens at the same time, well, he was fond of multitasking.
“A logical conclusion,” he conceded. “I am the Primary. There is stress involved.” He seemed to be informing people of this a lot lately.
“You’re not coming here to visit with me, that’s for certain. I’m surprised you haven’t paid for pick-up and delivery.”
“An unnecessary expense for something my assistant or I can handle.” Interacting with citizens like the laundress allowed him the opportunity to gauge his constituency. He spoke to at least one voter on a weekly basis.
“Skythia doesn’t worry about thrift. So what’ll it be, Elder?”
Always there were hidden fees. “I can offer—”
“Ten transportation globes, Realm-wide. And information.”
“Information?” Globes he’d expected. But information?
“That’s my new rate for next-day delivery.” Banging and clattering echoed up the chute. She opened the wooden door and stuck her head in the hole. “What in the gnome-stick are you doing down there?”
“Tripped!” a voice echoed up the shaft.
“We’re training another sorter,” she told Embor. “Laundry’s big business with the influx of human clothes, and hardly anyone can do it. But now let’s talk about you.”
“Your sibs don’t ask ten globes for a job they’re already well-paid to do.” Many Court services were privatized, the suppliers allotted a base amount from the treasury.
“My sibs couldn’t magic a water stain out of a dishrag.” She slammed her book closed and placed another on top of it. “Do you want clean clothes or not?”
He crossed his arms. “What’s your clan name?”
“Serendipity.” She smiled. “We’re small, but we’re loud.”
He could see the resemblance to Talista, if not Anisette. “Seeking information about Court activities could be considered treasonous.”
She laughed. “That’s not the kind of information I want.”
Was it so important to chat with a constituent this week? He didn’t have time for this. There was an Elder Court session in three days, and he had to prepare new arguments, consult with his cabinet, attend some negotiations with Greenland, sit advisory in the Younger Court on judicial matters, consider an appointment with his physician about his sleep issues; meet with Jake Story about their clandestine project, coordinate with the Commission for Truth about the AOC, insinuate himself into Princess Anisette’s good graces and banish Warran of Clan Torval. For something.
“I fail to see why you can’t be satisfied with your salary. My salary is enough for me.” Serving at Court was a public office and paid accordingly. He bartered transportation globes he created himself for any extras he required.
“I like gossip, and I have expensive tastes,” she said. “What can I say?”
“I have no gossip.” Gossip required one engage in casual conversation, another thing he had no time for.
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