The following morning, Geoffrey stayed at the castle for breakfast. It wasn’t because he was avoiding Flame and Steuan. It was just that the food was better at the castle. They had eggs, and bacon, and sausages, and pastries, and a chicory coffee that was almost like the real thing, especially if you hadn’t had real coffee in a long time.
It was late morning, and everyone else had already eaten, so the great hall was nearly empty. The only other people in the room were a group of servants who sat together at the far table.
He was hoping that he’d be able to avoid both the Duke and the general for a while. Maybe he could go into the hills for a while, sow some dissention among the bandits while people cooled down.
He was almost done with the meal when Abigail walked in, carrying a basket.
“Have you seen Ayoob?” she asked him. “He’s not in his room or in the barracks with the soldiers.”
“I haven’t seen him. Maybe he went into town.”
“Well, then, you come with me.”
She set the basket down at the table in front of him. She lifted up the kitchen towel that had been covering its contents and the smell of fresh-baked rolls drifted out.
He reached out a hand and she slapped it away.
“These cinnamon rolls aren’t for you,” she said. “They’re for Steuan. I had the cook make them special. I want you to come with me to apologize.”
“I’m not going to apologize to him,” said Geoffrey. “He’s a fraud. A conman. I don’t get what Flame sees in him.”
“Well, he is handsome and kind,” said Abigail. “Did you know that before he came here, he was in Leswana when they had that big fire, and he pitched right in and helped them rebuild? Anyway, I don’t want to apologize alone. Come with me.”
“What do you have to apologize for?”
“My new religion almost got him burned at the stake,” she said.
“They didn’t have a stake,” said Geoffrey. “He would have been just plain burned. But he knew the risks when he came to Krim. Being burned alive for witchcraft is specifically mentioned in the terms of service.”
“I still feel responsible,” she said. “I shouldn’t have let it get that far.” She paused, and her voice got softer. “It’s just… it was so nice to see people so excited about a religion. Normally people just fall asleep during my services.”
“The Duke paid them to get excited,” Geoffrey said. “The soldiers, at least. The other townspeople must have just gotten caught up. So, really, it’s the Duke who should be apologizing.”
“Well, I did my part, and I’m going to apologize for it. Are you coming or not?”
Geoffrey put down his fork. “Fine. I was done eating, anyway.”
They walked through the castle, out the front entrance, across the front courtyard, through the front gate, and down the hill to the inn.
Bartram was standing outside the front entrance looking dejected.
“Where’s your girlfiend?” asked Abigail.
“Ermyntrude? She left.” Bartram pointed down Castle Street, where they could see the coach driving away in the distance. “She only liked me as long as I was buying her things.”
“That’s too bad,” said Abigail, glancing over at Geoffrey. “You seemed really… taken with her.”
“I’m very disappointed,” said Bartram.
“You’re disappointed that someone you ordered out of a catalog turned out to be shallow and mercenary?” asked Geoffrey.
“No, she was perfect,” said Bartram. “I’m disappointed that Heartburgh didn’t have more shopping options. Maybe if I bring some merchants in, try to turn this place into a commercial hub…”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” said Geoffrey. “We get no through traffic. I mean, what’s north of here? A couple of tiny villages, a sex cult temple, some mountains, and then the edge of the world.”
Bartram snapped his fingers. “That’s it! We do have an edge of the world just across the mountains from here. We could make it into a tourist destination. Instead of taking a boat and falling off the edge, you can safely walk up to it. We could have a restaurant at the end of the world. An inn. Some gift shops. And people would stay at Heartburgh to rest up before making the final leg of the trip. That’s genius. I’m sure Ermyntrude will love it. I’ve got to tell the Duke.”
He slapped Geoffrey on the shoulder. “Thanks, man,” he said, and hurried off to the castle.
“That poor man,” said Abigail, looking out after him. “I hope he’ll learn soon that you can’t make a true and meaningful connection with someone by paying them to be your friend. There has to be something more there.”
“I don’t know,” said Geoffrey. “I kind of thing that he and Ermyntrude made a good match. He liked spending money on people. She liked having people spend money on her.”
Abigail sniffed and turned to face the inn. “Well, no point in dragging it out.” She squared her shoulders and went in. The innkeeper was nowhere to be seen, but Flame was in the small dining room, sitting by herself at a dark table in the far corner.
She looked heart broken. Geoffrey cheered up at the sight. He and Abigail walked over and sat down next to her.
Abigail patted her arm. “Are you all right, dear?”
Flame wiped her face with her sleeve and looked up at them. “He’s gone,” she said.
“I’m so sorry,” said Geoffrey. “Is there anything I could do to comfort you?”
Abigail put her basked on the table and pulled back the tower. “Would you like a cinnamon roll? These were supposed to be for Steuan, but if he left…”
“He broke up with me because my friends tried to have him killed,” said Flame. “But the rolls are a nice gesture. You should totally give them to him.”
“I thought you said he left,” said Abigail.
“He left me, and he left the inn,” said Flame. “The Duke stopped by this morning. As an apology, he gave Steuan a house. One of the nice ones, not the one that the goat thieves were holed up in last month.”
“Goat thieves?” asked Geoffrey.
“Well they stole other things as well,” said Flame. “But it’s the goats that they’ll be most remembered for. If the Duke offers you a house, check it for goat droppings first.”
Abigail stood up and tucked the towel back around the rolls. “I’ll be back soon,” she said. “If you need a shoulder to cry on or anything.”
“Me too,” said Geoffrey. “I’ve got shoulders as well.”
They easily followed Flame’s directions to Steuan’s new house, just on the other side of the central market.
“It’s a good location,” said Geoffrey. “Lots of pedestrian traffic. He should do good business here.”
Steuan himself was cleaning up the yard as they walked up. The house was an adorable single-story English cottage with a yard full of wildflowers. There was a picket fence all around the yard, which had let the plants grow tall safe from goats and other local animals.
He stopped what he was doing when he saw them and leaned on his rake, frowning.
“I came to apologize!” Abigail called out to him. “And I brought gifts.” She walked up to the front gate and held up the basket. “Cinnamon rolls.”
He leaned the rake against the house and walked down the short front path to meet them. “You didn’t have to do that,” he said.
“Things really got out of hand last night,” she said, passing him the basket. “I made some mistakes.”
“Thanks,” he said. “For the rolls. And for not going through with burning me.”
“I just wanted to give people something to believe in,” said Abigail.
“I understand,” said Steuan. “I kind of do the same thing.”
“Maybe you can come to a service some day,” she said. “The church is on the next street over.” She pointed to the west.
“Why not?” He nodded at her, glanced at Geoffrey, and turned to leave.
“Wait,” Geoffrey said. “I also want to apologize. I acted like a jerk. I heard that you’re a kind person.”
“Flame is also a kind person,” said Geoffrey. “I think you two are a good match. She had nothing to do with what happened last night, and was pretty upset about it. You should give her another chance.”
Steuan shifted the basket to his left hand and stretched out his right over the fence for a handshake. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it. And I’ll think about it.”
Abigail was quiet for a while as they walked back. Then, as they approached the inn, she said, “You surprised me back there. I really thought you didn’t like seeing Flame and Steuan together.”
“I didn’t,” said Geoffrey. “But I realized that they’re a good fit. They’re both nice, kind people. The kind of people who help out other people.”
“Of course,” she said. “You’re here to learn to be a better person. I keep forgetting. Of course you’d want more people like Flame and Steuan around as role models.”
“And you, of course,” Geoffrey said, touching her on the shoulder. “You always do the right thing.”
“Well, maybe not yesterday,” she said. “But yes, I do try to keep my eyes focused on my moral compass. Anyway, I’ll go keep Flame company. Do you want to join us?”
“No,” he said. “I’d just be a third wheel.”
He would wait until Flame was alone again. But even if she got back together with Steuan, it looked like the faith healer was going to be sticking around Heartburgh for a while. And if he was the same kind of bleeding-heart do-gooder as Flame, he could be worth cultivating. If he couldn’t trick Flame into helping him cheat on the ethics test that would get him back to the World of Battle, maybe Steuan could be his backup plan.
Meanwhile, he had good news for the general. Flame was single again. For now, at least.