Story of the Day: The Chocolatier
Never underestimate the power of a new chocolatier. I know certainly would not be able to resist such unmitigated might.
While one part of the royal party was out in the square, the other was in the barracks, enjoying a few hours to themselves now that the chief of the regiments were gone for the holiday. The RoyalGuard was still lining the capital walls, and a few in Dobhin’s regiment were put on patrol, but the Elites were off hunting, and the rest of the commanders were sitting at the tables in the soldier’s mess, playing at Sirs and Jainsago, practicing their strategies and pretending to lose a few silvers until Teague was come back, and the Captains were off with their raptors in the Royal Wood, looking for small prey and searching for prints to betray the location of their latest hunting partner. A wedge of cerns dotted over the training yard, each pretending to be useful while their commanders were by, but the distractions of the holiday were enough to charm any soldier out of the keep for one morning, even Rautu, who must always be an ardent and watchful Den Asaan at every hour of the day. He was not overseeing the training in the yard, however, nor was he hunting in the Royal Wood, nor was he in the arena eyeing the cringing destruction of new brigadiers. He was in the market district, skulking only a few rows away from the rest of the party, but where Alasdair and Boudicca were being glamoured into mirror-gazing, Rautu was prowling in the obtenebration of an alleyway, haunting the opening of a new Livanese chocolate shoppe, an event he had been anticipating for several days. He had been watching the shoppe’s evolution with interest, and though the grand opening had been scheduled for sometime after the holiday, Rautu conscience told him otherwise. He had seen the proprietor in the street, lunting about in his apron and work clothes, the shingle advertising the shoppe’s wares had already been erected, and everything to promise the shoppe’s opening soon had been noted and recorded: the chocolates had been delivered early that morning, the shelves had all been neatly arranged yestermorn, the staff were assembled and fluttering about, and from Rautu’s position on an adjacent roof, he narrowed his gaze and spied a sign reading: “Welcome! We’re open!” sitting on a counter just beyond the window.
“They’ll be open in a few hours, Den Asaan,” a voice from below laughed.
From the corner of his eye, Rautu saw Adazh, the owner of the Errant Fox, standing on the landing below. His establishment was preparing for the crowds coming for Brigid’s Day lunch, the cooks roasting the marble and mutton, the burlers managing about the ales and ciders, the butlers taking stock of the pantry, and Adazh polishing the plate, standing on the balcony in the open air, with a silver teapot in one hand and a cleaning cloth in the other.
“Shh,” Rautu hissed, craning his neck toward the chocolate shoppe.
“If you will use my roof to spy, Den Asaan,” said Adazh, examining his reflection in the teapot, “you will do so under my rules. You may order your men around and you may be His Majesty’s guardian, but I am the commander of this eatery, and as I am allowing you to sit on it, you will not shush me.”
The word ‘allow’ made the giant’s ears twitch, and Rautu glared at Adazh, his eyes blazing in silent fury. “I am performing my Mivaala,” he demanded.
“An excuse you are fond of making whenever you want to perch on my roof to stalk someone.” Adazh gave him a chary look. “As I told you before, Den Asaan, that shoppe will not be open until later, so you might come down from there and spend your time enjoying the animation in the square instead of perching on my roof.”
“The shoppe will open soon,” Rautu bellowed. “The owner has the welcome sign in his hand.”
Adazh put down the teapot and smiled to himself. “I suppose he could not wait, knowing you would come.”
Rautu humphed and mantled over the awning.
“He will not make great business today, with all the other chocolatiers already having gained the market,” Adazh continued, glancing toward the market row, “but with your patronage, he might make his quotas for the day.”
Rautu could not hear; his attention was claimed by the bell of the chocolate shoppe, its tintinnabular tones summoning him to the front door, where the proprietor was just stepping out. He hummed to himself, fixing the welcome sign on the front window, fidgeting with it until it was just as he liked, and then, with a nod to Adazh, opened the door and went back inside, the peal of the bell as the door closed summoning the giant down from his perch, descending from the roof of the Errant Fox in a fritinancy of furs, his trappings shrouding him as he landed, slipping into the shoppe and out of sight before the door to the chocolatier had closed.
A knowing smile wreathed Adazh’s lips. The giant could not help himself, and there was all Adazh’s delight. He liked the giant—he must like anyone so eager to appreciate cenatory distinction—and though he could wish the giant would perch elsewhere for his scouting pursuits, that he should choose his establishment for scouting was a compliment he could use to his advantage. Anyone who admired the giant’s abilities and needed to be persuaded to spend a week’s pay on one dinner might be charmed into the Fox and out of their houses with one announcement. The Den Asaan’s stalking place did have its fascination, and he was already scheming how best to pronounce the Errant Fox a perfect place for perching.
A waiter walking behind Adazh, who was come with all the rest of the silver to set the tables on the balcony, watched a large shadow plummet from the roof and slip out of sight on soundless feet. He backed against the balcony post and saw a shadow vanish from the landing below. “Was the Den Asaan on the roof again?” the waiter asked, peering over the railing.
“Who else would sit on our roof in the middle of the day?” Adazh shrugged.
The point was well-taken, and the waiter began dressing the tables.
“He has been secretly stalking that chocolatier for days,” Adazh continued. “I told him exactly when it would open, but the Den Asaan wanted to do his own investigation.”
“Good luck telling him anything…” the waiter murmured.
“I think they decided to open early just for him. Their mat hasn’t even been rolled out yet.” Adazh wiped down the teacups and put them in their silver casements. “I suppose it is always best to appease the most loyal customers first,” he observed, peering into the chocolatier’s window. “It is probably also wise to appease the Den Asaan while no one else is in the place. He is the best customer once he has been properly served, but if he feels slighted, he will stare at everyone and point his finger until he has his own way.”
“Doesn’t his manner bother you, sir?”
“No, not really,” said Adazh, after a moment’s pause. “I always like the petulant customers. They know what they like, and they are always the most devoted and generous when they find a place that knows how to tend to them.”