“I ’ere poor Spider’s in a bit’o a mess.”
That was Crotchet, the head cook. A fierce and withered creature of indeterminate age and gender, it was said that the cook had been here since the founding of the Orange Palace. Indeed, some accounts suggested that the cook even predated the palace, and that the walls of the kitchen had been built up around him. Or her.
My mind went back to the sight early this morning of Spider and the coronation painting, before I realized that this, surely, couldn’t be the problem. Not yet. Unless someone else had been sneaking a quick look at that painting.
The pressing warmth and heady aromas of the kitchen brought me back to the here-and-now. It was only a matter of time before the cook expanded on that mysterious statement.
“ ’E was caught out, talking to Pox about Coma.”
Aah, that made more sense. The whole town was buzzing with rumors about Coma, the mysterious head of the Fearsome Brotherhood of Inquisitors, who had been missing since Tuesday. Pox, the Town Crier, had been pestering Spider for news ever since.
The trouble was, no-one, especially not Spider, really knew what had happened to him. “Fired,” some said. “From the highest battlement,” said others. “Gone fishing.” “Run away.”
Some accounts, whispered only in hushed tones downstairs, and never within earshot of any of Grump’s spies, suggested that Coma had unearthed something about the King himself. Something about getting into bed with the wrong person, I’d heard. But that didn’t make sense. It was unwritten Law that everyone in the kingdom was fair game for a right royal screwing.
“Moment ’e opened ’is big mouf,” the cook continued, “t’whole Vulture Corps was a-swarming. And King Grump weren’t too ’appy about it neither.”
My heart sank. When Grump was unhappy, everyone kept their heads down. There’d been a lot of that going around lately.
“ ’E was last seen disappearin’ into some bushes,” the cook said with a knowing wink. “ ’Ad to take a piss, ’e said.”
Sadly we got to hear nothing further of the cook’s musing. Stoat, a recent addition to the kitchen staff and most certainly one of Grump’s spies, slithered through the door and the gathering swiftly dispersed.
“Not buyin’ any o’ that malarkey,” the cook whispered to me, bustling past. “Takin’ a piss? Bit late for that. ’E’d already pee’d ’isself.”