When they were all seated, Paradam pushed three cups and saucers across the table, the china porcelain white with blue flowers, a lemon slice floating on the surface, steam and citrus wafting up their noses. Tayna and Andrel drank eagerly, and after some hesitation, so did Will, the strong taste tingling in his mouth before sending a comfortable wave of heat through his body.
‘I’m glad to see you’re in good hands,’ said Paradam. ‘The best, I must say. You’ll hardly go amiss with an Ilmatar supervising you, I can say that for sure.’ Tayna smiled up at him affectionately. ‘The place didn’t become moribund whilst I was gone, did it, Tayna?’
‘No sir,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘But you were missed,’
‘I should hope so, the ungrateful ragamuffins,’
‘A lot of people wondered where you’d gone,’ said Andrel,
‘And I have it on good authority they were told absolutely nothing. I can’t imagine what would have happened if they’d known and I’d returned – er – empty-handed.’
Paradam gestured to Will, who had placed the velvet pouch on the table and continued to look at it whilst he balanced the tea cup on his knee. ‘You are allowed to open it, Will,’ Paradam added kindly.
‘What is it…sir?’ Will asked, the address feeling alien to him,
‘Funds for the coming year. I thought I’d get the material business out of the way first.’ Pulling the pouch onto his lap, Will unfastened the cord and reached inside, pulling out a glistening handful of cenae and arixel, not a single stone kexion in sight.
‘S – sir…’ Will gasped, unable to believe what he was holding. He thought of how long it would have taken him to save up in Vincula, but it was immaterial, no matter of hours of work or good behaviour in his lifetime could possibly have amounted to the same.
‘You ought to thank the Eldnor family. They managed to negotiate for the royal vaults to be opened…at least, the vault that the Elemental Court have no knowledge of. You’ll notice nothing but old mint, I wouldn’t dare use those gorgon-faced atrocities,’
‘I can’t accept this,’ said Will, shaking his head,
‘It is yours by right. Yours to use to buy whatever you require, I am sure what you have brought with you will not suffice for long. It’s no surprise to me that luxury fits you, either.’ Paradam gestured to his clothing, and Will fiddled with the cuffs more, smiling privately to himself. He slipped the coins back into the pouch and wound the cord tightly as if afraid it would evaporate and disappear.