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Vex sighed, pushing back from her desk and stretching her arms above her head. Cassandra had informed the rest of the Whitestone Castle that she was taking a week’s break, which meant most of her paperwork had fallen to Vex to take care of.

It wasn’t her favorite part of being a Baroness of Whitestone and the de facto Treasurer of the city, but it was manageable. She looked at the three neat stacks of paper on her desk – one tall and full of completed letters, inquiries, and forms, the second a decent size and containing documents that Cassandra would address when she returned from Marquet, and the third quite small and comprising various letters that were to be delivered locally. Winter’s Crest was nearing, as well as the Grey Hunt, and Whitestone would be playing host to several travelling dignitaries, which meant plenty of preparation and official communication.

It was, simply put, exhausting.

Looking at the clock, Vex noted just how late it was – nearly dinner time according to the grandfather clock Percy had crafted for her.

Glancing out the window she noticed it was even starting to get dark, and Vex wondered if Percy had gotten wrapped up in his work, or if he had started on dinner. Elaina would need to eat soon if they wanted to get her bathed and into bed at a decent hour.

Standing up, Vex stretched again and huffed out a breath as her back popped.

Trinket made a questioning noise and looked up from his spot by the fire, the silvery fur on his snout catching the light of the flames, and Vex chuckled, shaking her head.

“No, no, it’s alright,” she said, stepping across the room to scratch behind his ears. He hummed beneath her ministrations, and she chuckled as he pushed up into her hand. “I’m just getting old, Trinket. There’s nothing wrong.”

The look Trinket gave her implied that there was definitely something wrong with that, and that only made her laugh again as she nuzzled the top of his head.

“I’m going to have some dinner, and then maybe we can go out for a little while tonight if you’re hungry,” she said, standing again and patting him on the head in farewell. “Stretch your legs a bit.”

Trinket rumbled something and seemed to fall back asleep, and Vex smiled as she turned back toward the door and exited the study, gently closing the door behind her.

Luckily for her rumbling stomach, Vex smelled something very good as she entered the hall. She listened carefully and heard the faint sound of activity in the kitchen.

Looking forward to whatever Percy had prepared, Vex headed in the direction of Elaina’s room to let her know dinner was ready. Elaina had taken after her mother in face, but her father in his love of books, and she could more often than not be found in her room curled up with the latest novel Shaun had brought back from Emon. He only ever returned to the port city to check up on his secondary shop there, but somehow he always managed to find a simple chapter book that Elaina would enjoy.

When Vex peeked into the bedroom however, she found it empty. After a cursory search of the room she realized the fire had gone out at least an hour earlier, and the bed was made, but the thick blanket Grog had made for her birthday the year before (with Pike’s help) was absent.

Going to the next most obvious place, Vex entered their personal library, which, while not the size of the one in Castle Whitestone, was still sizable and full of hundreds of books. But, while the bright green blanket way lying on an armchair in the corner, Elaina was nowhere to be found.

Vex, confused, checked outside, wondering if some of Elaina’s friends had enticed her to the street for a snowball fight with the freshly fallen coat of snow from earlier that day. Checking outside, however, she saw that the yard of the manor was undisturbed.

“Percy?” she called through the house.

No answer was forthcoming.

Heading toward the kitchen, where things had gotten strangely silent, she called again: “Percy? Darling?”

A pan seemed to clatter to the floor, but Percy replied, “Yes, Vex?”

“Busy, darling?” she joked, walking through the main foyer to the kitchen door. “I was just wondering, have you seen- oh gods.”

The sight she had walked in on was nothing short of a disaster.

While there was a nice pot of stew simmering on the stove, and a pan of rolls sat neatly on the far counter, the center of the kitchen looked like an explosion had occurred.

There were a couple eggs on the floor, several bowls were in a pile near the stove, and footprints tracked into and out of the sea of flour that coated pretty much everything in a five-foot circle in the center of the kitchen.

“Look, Mama! My hair looks just like Dad’s!”

Elaina ran up to Vex, surprisingly little flour on her front, though her back was coated in the stuff, and most of it covered her previously dark brown hair.

Vex, dumbfounded, looked from her daughter’s hair to her husband’s, and saw (gods forbid) the resemblance.

“And how did it get that way?” she asked, looking from Percy to Elaina again.

“Cooking!” Elaina exclaimed, dragging Vex by the hand to the counter, where the stew and rolls were. “Lots of cooking, don’t you see? We were making you dinner-“

“Yes, dear, I see that,” Vex cut in, “But I was talking about the state of your hair and clothes. And the floor.”

“Oh, that? Dad ran into me while holding the flour pot. But at least it didn’t break!”

Elaina pointed at the intact pot on the floor, though it was completely empty.

“Wonderful,” Vex said, turning her gaze to Percy, who had the sense to look abashed. “Is that what happened, darling?”

“More or less,” Percy agreed, pushing his glasses up his nose nervously and brushing some flour off the front of his coat. “It was, admittedly, my fault for the mess.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Vex asked, though she couldn’t help grinning. From everything she had heard, children were usually the messy ones, but eight-year-old Elaina was much tidier than her father.

“At least we made dinner?” Percy chanced. The look on his face, part hopeful and part waiting for retribution, make her chuckle.

“I suppose that makes up for some of it. But we’ll have some nice bonding time after dinner while we clean, won’t we?”

She walked forward and kissed Percy on his left cheek, where there was only a thin dusting of flour, and she winked at him as he blushed.

“Can we eat now, Mama?” Elaina asked, running up to Vex and hugging her leg. “Can we? We made your favorite stew, and I kneaded-ed the dough for the rolls real good so they’re nice and fluffy!”

“You kneaded the dough very well,” Vex corrected, preempting Percy doing the exact same thing. “And we most certainly can. Is the table set?”

“I did that while the rolls were cooking!”

“Then lead the way,” Vex said, grabbing some rags to hold the hot tray of rolls with and following Elaina into their dining room. Percy followed close behind, carrying the pot of stew, and they sat down to a simple but lovely meal.

 


 

“Did you really run into her?” Vex asked Percy once Elaina had been bathed and put to bed, as they were starting on the long task of clearing the flour and eggs from the kitchen floor.

“She was enthusiastic to return the eggs to the icebox, and I’m not sure who hit whom as she darted across the kitchen, to be honest,” Percy said, shrugging.

“Well, you made quite the mess here,” she said, winking at him as she swept some of the loose flour into the dustpan he held. “And here we are cleaning it up instead of doing all sorts of other things…”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“And why not?”

“Because then we might just leave the floor until tomorrow and Elaina would think we’re terrible parents,” Percy deadpanned.

“You don’t want Vax to see, do you?” Vex asked with a chuckle.

He sighed and nodded, going to shake out the dustpan. “I can’t say that’s not part of it either.”

“We certainly got into much worse trouble when we were her age,” Vex pointed out. “I know there was one time when we convinced one of the merchants travelling to Byroden that we were orphans, which earned us a couple days’ worth of food. We couldn’t go into town with our mother for a full week after that little stunt.”

“I still feel some desire to keep up appearances though,” Percy pointed out, kneeling down with the dustpan again. “Must be the noble blood in me.”

“Must be,” Vex mused, smirking as she swept up more of the flour. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind ravishing you here, where they’ll be standing only tomorrow, not knowing you-“

“Can we just finish quickly?” Percy groaned, shutting his eyes tightly as his breathing sped up.

“Anything for you, darling,” Vex simpered, sweeping up the panful of dust and sauntering away to grab a rag to clean up the eggs.

“I hate you,” Percy said, getting to his feet and awkwardly moving to throw the flour away again.

“Oh, you love me,” Vex argued, kneeling down and winking over her shoulder at him.

“You’re right, I love you,” Percy admitted, inhaling sharply. “But do you think we can finish this a bit faster?”

“Anything for you, darling,” Vex repeated, grinning as they finished clearing away the mess.