Nyorik Blood

Iskielo is still trapped with an elderly customer across the room and looks increasingly desperate. I snag Meristo. “Let me get started on your orders. Iskielo could do with a rescue.”

To my surprise, Meristo laughs. “I’m not getting in the middle of that, and neither should you.”

I frown at him. “You’re normally happy to help the younger boys.”

“Not this time,” he says. “Not with her.”

“Then take over here.”

“Miyara, hang on, don’t go over there—”

I cross the room anyway, in time to hear the old woman giving Iskielo a piece of her mind. “So you can’t answer my question and then start shooting recommendations out at random? You’ve just suggested a tea that has nothing to do with my request and another that’s exactly what I don’t want, and you’re shocked I’m not smiling, thanking you for it, and letting you off the hook? Is this the level of service I can expect at this establishment?”

“Excuse me, Iskielo, Meristo needs your help at the tea bar,” I say. “I’d be happy to take over here.”

Iskielo’s relief is palpable as he stumbles away from the table.

The old lady cocks an eyebrow at me. “He didn’t deserve that.”

The rescue, she means, not the dressing down—and she’s suddenly calm. Something else is at work here beyond an upset customer.

I say carefully, “Iskielo is young and can’t be expected to know how to handle every situation yet. And people make mistakes.”

“And they’re responsible for fixing them themselves,” she retorts. “You’re coddling him. What do you think his family apprenticed him at Talmeri’s to learn, Grace?”

It clicks. “Talmeri sent you here to test him?”

The woman leans back. “Test, train. I see why. You go fetch him back here.”

I narrow my eyes. “I think he’s demonstrated he’s not prepared to deal with you well today, and he could do with some time to calm himself and re-center.”

She looks at me levelly. “Grace, I have taught a lot of adolescents in my day, and you’re giving him too little credit. Feel free to instruct him first as you wish, but don’t just shield him. He’ll never learn that way, and he clearly has learning he needs to do. Now go. I’ll wait.”

I study her for a moment longer, incline my head, and return to the tea bar where Iskielo is whispering furiously to Meristo.

“Can you believe her?” Iskielo exclaims when I arrive. “I don’t know how you got away from her so fast, Miyara. Nothing I said satisfied her.”

“Did you listen to her?” I ask.

Iskielo rolls his eyes. “I bet she just likes you better. You didn’t hear her. We should bring her one of the expired blends of Nyorik Blood tea that Lorwyn found and see how she likes that.

He looks at me with mischief in his eyes that falters abruptly under the severity of my gaze.

Perhaps the old woman is right.

“We will do no such thing,” I say quietly. “And I am appalled and disappointed you’d suggest that.”

“But Miyara, she—”

“Did she threaten or hurt you in some fashion? A family member? Please explain to me what circumstance could possibly call for such a response.”

“She was so annoying! And it was a joke.

“Many people in life will annoy you,” I say. “Such a jest only reflects poorly on you, and you can do better. I suggest you begin learning alternate methods right now.”

He blanches. “You want me to go back? No way.”

“You’ll go talk to her right now, or today is your last day in the shop,” I tell him. “And I won’t lie to your family about what you just suggested.”

Finally, Iskielo’s shoulders droop. “But… what do I say?  I tried everything I could think of!”

“Then I suggest you try not saying whatever you can think of. If you don’t know the answers, ask clarifying questions to learn more, and let her tell you. Now go.”

I watch his return in silence until Meristo says, “You don’t look happy about this.”

“I don’t like this method of instruction,” I say. “It seems cruel to put him through this kind of gauntlet.”

Meristo laughs. “She’s a professional etiquette instructor. She won’t give him more than he can handle.”

Lorwyn enters in time to hear me respond, “Just because you had an easy time with her doesn’t mean Iskielo will,” and she snorts.

“Oh, he didn’t have an easy time at all,” Lorwyn says. “Meristo was less innocent, but possibly more obnoxious.”

“Only possibly? I think I’m offended,” Meristo says. “But trust me, this will be better for him than you can imagine.” He rolls his eyes. “And spirits know he needs a verbal smackdown as badly as I did.”

Lorwyn echoes dryly, “Did?”

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