“My palate is very refined,” the young man in front of the counter explains. “I doubt you have anything that can stump me.”
“You might be surprised,” I say. “Talmeri’s teas and tisanes utilize some uncommon ingredients.”
I move to step out from behind the counter, and the man edges over to be in my path if I try to leave.
“Maybe we could do a private tasting sometime, just you and me,” he says. “Make it a competition. I bet you’d learn a thing or two.”
“Oh?” I ask. “Are you a tea master as well? My apologies, you should have mentioned.”
“No, I’m too busy for with the tea guild’s arbitrary qualifications.” He waves his hand. “Bureaucracy’s such a waste of time, you know? Just a way to keep out people with real talent. Oh, but, I mean, it’s very impressive you managed to jump through all their hoops so fast.”
“Thank you,” I say. “You know, as long as I’m back here, I think I have just the thing for you. I save this one for the people who can truly appreciate it. Just a moment.”
The water in the kettle is already at the right temperature, so I’m able to brew it quickly, abandoning my usual repertoire of polite nudges to make way for other customers.
Taseino is circulating among the tables, at least, though he narrow his eyes at this situation. I shake my head, but not before he turns away and heads to the back, presumably for backup from Lorwyn.
I won’t need it. “Here,” I say, handing the customer a cup. “We call this tisane Wild Card. Give it a try.”
He sips. His expression turns delighted at the flavor—and then he frowns in thought, taking another sip.
“You’re right, this is a very special blend,” he says. “I’ve got two of the ingredients but the third is tricky. Or maybe there’s four?”
“I’ll tell you what,” I say. “Why don’t you take a packet of this home with you and think about it. The next time you come in, if you can tell me what’s in the tisane without any assistance, I’ll give you a tin on the house.”
“A tin of tea? No, I don’t think so. How about you give me—AGH!”
“Yorani!” I cry, reaching for my familiar, who has launched herself off Taseino’s shoulder and embedded her claws in the man’s coat, doing her best to shred it.
“Get this beast off me!”
“Yorani is a tea spirit,” Taseino says. “I’m sure you didn’t mean to disrespect the spirits by calling her a beast.”
“She’s attacking me!”
“I’m so sorry,” I say, prying her free, although uncharacteristically she continues struggling in my arms. “She’s still accustomizing herself to humans and might not calm down for some time. Perhaps you’d better take the tea and go.”
The man takes one last look at Taseino’s impassive expression and the image of Yorani’s claws reaching for him before cutting his losses.
As soon as he’s gone, Yorani settles into my arms and begins grooming herself.
The whole tea room applauds, and I sigh.
“Nicely done,” Taseino murmurs to Yorani, petting her.
“I appreciate that you had my back, but please never do that again,” I say. “There are other ways of dealing with people like that than dragons to the face.” Satisfying though it was. To Yorani I add, “But I suppose you’re very pleased with yourself.”
Yorani swishes her tail and turns expectantly to Taseino.
“I promised to heat a new pot of tea for her to bask in,” he explains, “since I was asking her to abandon a comfortable nap.”
Yorani chirps smugly.
“I feel this is a bad precedent to set,” I say.
Taseino raises his eyebrows. “Wild Card is made with grated gasworm, isn’t it?”
Gasworms emanate an array of scented vapors to repel predators, but in their distilled form they create a rich blend of flavors. Every cup of grated gasworm tisane tastes different.
“I don’t see how that’s relevant one way or another,” I say.
“We’re as pleased with the precedent just set as you are,” he says. Yorani chirps once in accord, and as I blink at this from unassuming Taseino he carries Yorani to the back.
Lorwyn grins from the doorway. “Well, well, look who’s found their claws.”
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