Beale lowered the flute and said, “It’s a private place to practice.”
There was enough emphasis and bite to the word “private” to tell Daemon that if he’d been a boy instead of a grown man—regardless of being the High Lord’s son—he would have been booted out the door, and that boot would have had the strength of Beale’s leg behind it.
“Beale . . .” Daemon looked around the pantry. Two rolltop desks, side by side, shelves of the best silver, the bottles of wine that were anticipated to be needed for the next few days.
Hell’s fire, the Hall had at least one music room. Why was the man hiding out here to practice?
“I suppose this is a practical place to practice whenever you have a few minutes between your duties,” Daemon said, feeling a sudden need to choose his words with care. In no way did he want to imply that Beale might be shirking his duties. “But surely you have some free time in the evenings, even with all the preparations needed because the Lady and I will have a more demanding social calendar than usual.”
Beale gave him a measuring look. Daemon wasn’t sure against what standard he was being measured—and he was even less sure that he measured up to that standard.
At last Beale said, “We do have free time, even with the increased activity at the Hall. The High Lord always insisted that everyone working here have some time for their own lives. Since there are so many who work at the Hall, and so many who reside here as well, we are our own community and have our own entertainments. Several people play musical instruments, so we have a musical evening each week and give a performance once a season. Those who enjoy reading have literary discussions. There are also weekly card games. Since the Hall allows several beginning positions to be used as a training ground for Blood who have chosen to work in domestic service, such activities provide the younger staff with opportunities to enjoy society without needing to go to the village. And because the rules at the Hall are so strict—and strictly kept—the penalties for mistakes while playing cards are not so great.”
“Like a youngster gambling away all his wages,” Daemon said.
Feeling awkward, Daemon looked away. “I’ve owned the Hall for a year now. Should I have known about this?”
Beale laid the flute in its case. “Taking care of the interests of the SaDiablo family is not a small task, Prince. Neither is taking care of Dhemlan. And you’ve also had the equally demanding—and more important—task of helping the Lady regain her health. I don’t think last Winsol you were able to think much beyond those things.”
Astute assessment, Daemon thought, nodding.
“This year the Lady is well and you’ve settled into the routine of ruling Dhemlan, so your own view of the world can now widen.”
He started to agree. Then he noticed a look in Beale’s eyes and rocked back on his heels to reassess all the information he’d been given during this little chat.
“So what duties am I ready to assume?” he asked warily.
Beale smiled. “The servants’ Winsol party is held on the first evening of Winsol. There is dancing later, but the evening begins with a short musical program. The High Lord and the Lady would join us for that part of the evening before going on to their own engagement. And they would sing one of the traditional Dhemlan songs for Winsol, a lovely one about the warmth of family on the darkest night. Last year, the High Lord came down and sang it for us.”
“Is the Lady coming down this year to sing it for you?” Daemon asked.
“Yes, she’s already said she would.”
He nodded. His singing voice wouldn’t hold up to professional standards, but he could carry a tune and read music, so he did well enough for at-home entertainment. “Do you have the music?”
“I do.” Beale opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small stack of sheet music. “The top one is the Dhemlan song. The next one is a song the Lady and the High Lord used to sing for guests. It is in the Old Tongue.”
Daemon groaned. The Old Tongue was a liquid kind of language, beautiful to hear and damned difficult to learn.
“Perhaps if you learned the music, you could accompany one of them?” Beale suggested.
“That would be better.” Much better. “Thanks for the music.” Daemon opened the door, ready to retreat.
“You’re quite welcome, Prince.”
Having a suspicious feeling that his list of things to do before Winsol had lengthened more than he thought, Daemon hurried toward his study—and stopped short when he saw Lord Marcus, his man of business, handing a coat and hat to Holt, the footman on duty in the great hall.
“Did we have an appointment?” Daemon asked.
“Not exactly,” Marcus said. “I came in the hopes you could spare an hour or two for me to review some things.”
An hour or two. Mother Night.
“Of course,” Daemon said. “Holt? Please ask Mrs. Beale for a tray of coffee.”
“There’s some fresh baking,” Holt said. “I’ll ask if she’ll add a bit to the tray.”
“Thank you.” He’d been lured to that part of the Hall because he’d passed a stairway and caught some delicious scents rising up from the kitchen. But when he got to the doorway and heard Mrs. Beale snarl about “them who try to snitch the treats before the pans were cool,” he decided he liked his balls better than nutcakes. Realizing he needed some excuse if his presence near the kitchen was discovered, he had ended up in the butler’s pantry—and now had his musical assignment for the festivities.
Which made him wonder if the scents coming up from the kitchen had been a Craft-enhanced lure. And damn it, he’d swallowed the bait without getting a taste of anything else.
“Have you come to add to my list of things to do?” Daemon asked as he led Marcus into his study and settled into one of the chairs on the informal side of the room.
“Afraid so.” Marcus set a bulging leather case near his feet. “I was informed, discreetly, by both Beale and Helton that the bonuses traditionally given at Winsol are usually distributed on the first evening so that the servants who are spending a few days with their families at the beginning of the holiday have some extra spending money.”
“I see.” He’d presented the envelopes on Winsol Day last year, and no one had said anything to him. Apparently this was another part of his duties he was ready to assume in the correct way.“All right. Do you have the lists of people working at each SaDiablo residence or estate?”