The next few days pass in a whirl of activity, punctuated by a few momentous exchanges.
At first, my only priority is serving the Te Muraka. And Yorani, but she’s content to turn what I’m coming to know as her unique brand of mischief on them for long stretches of time. Sa Nikuran finds her amusing, fortunately, and is happy to dragon-sit. I’m relieved there are breaks to be had from my sudden and unexpected role as dragon parent.
The day after the historic council meeting, a formal delegation arrives from the capital to help settle the Te Muraka. None of my family is among those sent, and none of them appear to realize I’m the former princess, but I know it’s only a matter of time before my family comes for me.
That’s a fight for the future. For now, life goes on.
When Ostario comes into Lorwyn’s lab, I immediately requisition one of her burners and put a kettle on. Yorani, just as promptly, hops up to sit on top of it, basking in the warmth.
“I need to speak with Lorwyn alone, Miyara, if you don’t mind stepping out,” the mage says.
I rummage through Lorwyn’s things until I find leaves I’m satisfied with. “When a dangerous man arrived here with the intention of doing what was best for me,” I say, locating a mostly clean cup, “she wouldn’t leave me alone with him either.”
Lorwyn tenses a fraction, but she doesn’t gainsay me.
I don’t think she’s spoken Entero’s name aloud since he left. So far, there’s been no word.
“Very well,” Ostario says equably enough. “May I assume we can speak frankly, then?”
“I know she was a princess and you’re a witch,” Lorwyn says flatly.
“And so are you,” Ostario notes. “And we’ll have to do something about that.”
I sigh. “Ostario. Really.”
“Something that is not killing you,” he clarifies, rolling his eyes. “Obviously.”
“Oh, obviously,” Lorwyn echoes. “What’s it to be then, indentured servitude? Torturous experiments?”
“Lessons,” Ostario says, “in magecraft and in witchcraft. I felt how much power you were able to pull, and consistently, to shield against that blast. If you were trained, it wouldn’t have mattered if I was at that council meeting at all.”
“And in return,” Lorwyn presses, “I assume I’ll be at the state’s beck and call.”
“Oh, worse than that, you’ll be at my beck and call,” Ostario says. “You’ll learn what I tell you to learn, the way I tell you to learn it, because I’m forging a trail for you to make it look like you’ve been registered and safe all this time. And since we both know you’re emphatically not safe, and I’ve risked my reputation for you, teaching you is now my problem.”
That is a curious way to look at it. But it’s also, I think, one Lorwyn will accept more readily than any professions of altruism.
“Why are you smiling?” Lorwyn demands of me. “This is blackmail.”
“He’s already forging a history for you,” I say. “Just accept the lessons.”
“If you’ll recall,” Ostario says, “I did offer you a chance without blackmail attached first, but I suppose I should have known, given witches, how that would go.”
“What,” Lorwyn says, “because we’re all rightfully suspicious? Backward? Criminal?”
“Because witches always have to do everything the hard way,” he says, smiling a little sadly. “I should know.”
And with that, he begins making his way out.
“Why are you doing this?” Lorwyn calls after him. “And don’t tell me it’s just out of the goodness of your heart, or about helping witches, or even Miyara. What’s in it for you?”
Ostario pauses at the door. “Maybe someday I’ll tell you. But you’re not ready for that level of magic yet.” He smiles more broadly. “Until next time, my apprentice.”
He takes his leave, and Lorwyn just stands there, staring after him, like she can’t make any sense of what’s just happened and what it means for her. I gently push her into her chair, and she collapses into it, still staring numbly.
“Congratulations,” I tell her. “You’re going to be the most unwilling mage in history.”
I hand her a cup of tea, and she sips automatically.
“You’re a menace, and I should never have let you inside that night,” she says again, and I laugh.
Risteri manages to claw herself free of dealing with the shambles Kustio has left of House Taresim’s affairs and joins me as I walk, once more, to the council offices.
“You would not believe how deep it all goes,” she says. “Well, no, I suppose you would. But it’s going to take a lot of work to salvage the House, and it’s work I have basically no experience doing. So that bodes well.”
“Your grandmother will be coming to take charge, won’t she?” I ask, struggling to resettle a certain baby dragon spirit differently on my shoulder. No one has yet explained to me what a familiar means for a person who doesn’t perform magic, other than a great deal of adorable bother.
Risteri shudders. “Spirits, don’t remind me. She’s going to be furious with me.”
“The actions you took against your father are ultimately what will protect your House from the worst of the fallout,” I say. “Your grandmother will recognize that. It will matter.”
“I know,” Risteri says. “But it’ll all take a while to sort out, and honestly, it’ll be a while before I want to have any more to do with the House than I have to.”
“I thought you had friends among the servants?”
Risteri sighs. “I’m friendly with them, but real friendship is hard when there’s that much power disparity, too much potential for one side to hurt the other. Even if it’s just perception. You know that.”
“I do,” I say softly.
“I’m making sure they’re provided for, at least until everything finishes shaking out,” Risteri says. “We’ll see who comes out the other side unscathed and what the House finances look like then. But everyone who stays on has to stay, because of the investigation, and I can’t deal with being trapped there. Never again.”
Risteri and I have far more in common than I suspected when we first met.
“So where will you go?” I ask.
“Well,” she says. Looks at me; glances away. “Since it’s not like you’ll be able to stay in the cottage anymore, I was wondering if you might need a roommate?”
I stare at her, arrested by the notion.
“Unless Deniel—” Risteri starts.
“I’m not moving in with Deniel,” I say. “And I would love to be your roommate.”
“Really?” she asks, voice tentative.
I take her hand. “Really,” I say, and we grin at each other stupidly. “Just think how much fun we’ll have with fire without supervision.”
Risteri laughs. “We are going to have to work on our cooking, aren’t we?”
“That is one kind of fire you’ll enjoy playing with,” I agree serenely.
It takes Risteri a moment to realize I’m teasing her about Sa Nikuran—I suspect I need more practice at teasing—but when she does, instead of blushing, she lets loose a full-bodied cackle, the loudest and most carefree sound I’ve ever heard.
When she can breathe again, Risteri says, “I’ll be able to talk the tourism guild into paying me a salary for my work, but what about you? I thought Talmeri wouldn’t pay you enough for rent.”
“That was before,” I say. “She will now. Leave it to me.”
After we arrange a dragon-sitter for Yorani for the afternoon, Risteri drags Lorwyn off to help her look for apartments, leaving Talmeri alone with me.
It doesn’t take long to renegotiate our terms.
I get everything I want, including a raise for Lorwyn, and in the end Talmeri is nearly as happy with the new arrangement as I am.
I have plans for this tea shop, and I have plans for my role in it.
My grandmother was right: there is work for those who know how to listen, and I finally believe I know what that work is and my place in it.
I leave, feeling bright and strong, which I’m unreasonably glad of, because I finally have time to walk a very familiar path.
As I approach Deniel’s house, I pause, because Thiano is leaving it with a covered box.
“So,” I say, “did it all turn out how you plotted?”
He smirks at me and shakes his head. “You give me too much credit.”
“I don’t think I do,” I say.
Thiano laughs. “Then give me the credit of assuming I always have plots yet to satisfy, Tea Princess.” He winks, and saunters past with a wave. “Until next time.”
I watch him go, and wonder if I’ll ever know where his lingering sadness comes from, and how it drives him. But that’s a mystery for the future, too.
Today, I steel myself like I have so many times before not knowing what to expect at this door, and knock.
There’s no hesitation.
The door nearly flies open, and Deniel is waiting there, hopeful and breathless. “You’re here,” he breathes. “Please, come in.”
I follow him to the back, unsettled. “How is everything going with the council?” I ask.
“Busier than I’ve had time to process,” he says. “I’d love to tell you about it later and hear your thoughts about the council politics. If you want? But first, I have something for you.”
He goes into his work area, and returns with a small wrapped box.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“For you,” he says, which I had gathered, but I suppose it was an inane question.
I untie the ribbon, then the cloth underneath, which Deniel takes from me so I have both hands available to hold the box and lift the lid.
Inside rest two dazzlingly fine silver filigree cuff bracelets.
“I noticed,” Deniel says nervously, “when you were over here, any time you got nervous about your place, you’d start rubbing your wrists, like it bothered you that they were bare. I figured it was something from your time at the palace you couldn’t take with you, but I thought maybe having new bracelets, from your new life, would help you feel more settled. Wherever you go.”
The old bracelets were the cold security of reliable shackles. But this is… a familiar comfort, but with a new meaning. Every time I touch them I’ll be reminded how different my life is now. My fingers tremble as I touch them.
“Miyara?” Deniel asks uncertainly.
He saw me. All along, he saw me.
“This is what you were hiding from me?” I whisper.
“Thiano procured them for me,” Deniel explains. “His services… well, we bargained for me to pay him in a few special tea sets, since I’ve refused to sell him any before. That was what I was working on.”
“Why wouldn’t you tell me?” I cry. “I thought you were in trouble and didn’t trust me!”
“Oh, Miyara, no,” Deniel says, taking me by the shoulders. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that was what you thought or I’d have said something. It was just that—you already felt so indebted to everyone around you, felt like you could never repay them. And after knowing what the bracelets cost, I didn’t want you to feel obligated to me.” His face softens. “I never want you to feel obligated to me.”
Tears fall down my cheeks, and, gently, he brushes them aside.
Wherever you go, he said.
“And you pushed yourself to make them in a hurry,” I say, “because you didn’t think I’d stay.”
Deniel freezes. Swallows. “Miyara, you were in hiding, but—”
“I never was very good at it,” I say. “And I was never sure I would be able to stay. A reckoning is inevitable now.”
“That. But also.” He takes a breath. “Miyara, you never had a chance to explore. You came here on accident, not by choice. Now you’re a tea master. You can go anywhere you want, and if you want to, you should. I want… I don’t want to lose you, but I want you to always feel like anything is possible. I want you to feel free to walk your own path, even if I’d be… sad.”
Now his eyes are glassy with tears. “I would be sad, too,” I manage.
Then I slide the cuff bracelets onto my wrists.
I feel, uncannily, like the spirits have aligned.
“They’re beautiful,” I say, looking down at them.
Deniel tilts my chin up to meet his gaze again. “So are you,” he says. “But if you secretly hate them, I promise I won’t be offended if you toss them out the window.”
“I mean it,” he says. “I never want you to feel constrained or stifled with me. I want you to be happy, whatever that means.”
“Even if,” I say, “that means I’m going to stay by your side, no matter what you think is best for me? Even if I just bring you trouble?”
“Especially then,” Deniel whispers, cupping my cheek.
And then he kisses me.
I stare, wide-eyed into his dancing eyes, for a stunned, thrilled moment.
And then I drop the box and close my eyes, leaning into Deniel as our arms wrap around each other.
After a long, wonderful moment, we separate, each breathing heavily. I know I must be flushed bright red, but I am reassured that Deniel is, too.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” I confess.
He smiles his perfect, crooked smile, running a hand through his hair.
I stop resisting the urge and let myself follow the course his hand has taken, patting the hair sticking up back into place.
Deniel’s breath catches, and then our gazes catch, and we are kissing again.
This time when we separate, Deniel says, “Neither do I. But I think we can figure it out together. If you want.”
“I would,” I say, “very much.”
And we smile, utterly ridiculous smiles at each other, and I cannot imagine being happier than I am in this moment.
Which is, naturally, when Talsion mews from our feet.
“Our chaperone,” Deniel jokes, untangling himself to reach down and pet Talsu, leaving me a clear view of his altar to the spirits.
I smile, and bow, and offer a silent prayer.
For the future. Our future, together, as ourselves.
“Just wait until you both meet Yorani,” I say as Deniel straightens. “She grows smarter and bolder with every day.”
“I’m sure Talsu will have opinions of her,” Deniel says.
“I’m sure Yorani will have opinions of you,” I counter, and he laughs.
My favorite sound in the world.
“I will endeavor to measure up to her standards,” Deniel says.
And then he reaches for my hand.
“Do you have time for a cup of tea?” he asks.
I take it, and hold on.
I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
And that’s it for A Coup of Tea, the first book of the Tea Princess Chronicles! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the story.
If you want to read more about Miyara’s adventures, there are Tea Shop Interludes (along with some occasional surprises outside the tea shop…) as well as the completed second book in the series, Tea Set and Match!
If you’d like to support my work, I’d be honored by your support on Patreon or Ko-fi. And you can spread the word by recommending it to fellow book-lovers and reviewing Tea Princess Chronicles online, including the listing on Goodreads or at serial fiction databases like Web Fiction Guide and Muse’s Success!
Yours in tea and dragons,