Though he was quite as busy the next day as he had been the previous, Zeah had little thought for anything he was doing and much for that night’s supper. He took a fine haddock from the first load of fish brought in on the new fishing boat. Though Mrs. Colbshallow was not available, he found a Mrs. Finkler among the Freedonian immigrants, who by all accounts was a wonderful cook. He paid her two marks to prepare roasted fish. She proved to be as good as her reputation, and at the appointed time delivered not only two beautifully roasted fish fillets, but a large plate of potatoes, seasoned in a way that was completely new to former butler but was delicious, and roasted leeks covered in sweet butter.
Borrowing a small round table, Zeah covered it with a make-due tablecloth that was actually a short scrap of baby blue dress cloth lost from someone’s luggage. He pulled out a decorative bud vase, one of the few pieces of household glass that had survived since his wife’s death, filled it with water, and stuffed a handful of white wildflowers inside. He made this the centerpiece. Though it was far from the fancy porcelain that graced the Dechantagne table, it made his chipped plates and old silverware look very sad indeed. He was happy that at least he owned two nice chairs. They too were purchased long ago by his wife.
A knock at the door announced Egeria’s presence and he hurried her in to sit down. Though she seemed completely recovered, he still treated her as though she was as fragile as the bud vase. He had yet to spend an entire night without his mind flashing to her lying on the floor of Miss Dechantagne’s tent covered in blood. On several occasions he had awakened from a nightmare version of those events.
“Well, you’ve outdone yourself, Mr. Korlann,” said Egeria, looking at the food. “You must have been cooking all day.”
“I… didn’t cook it.”
“I know, silly,” she laughed. “Even if cooking was one of your many talents, I doubt you would have prepared Potatoes Kasselburg.”
“Is that what they are?”
“Yes. I had them last time I was in Freedonia.”
“Mm-hmm. I’ve had to travel Kasselburg and Bangdorf several times.”
“I’ve never been to Freedonia,” mused Zeah. “I guess I’m not very well traveled.”
“Are you kidding? Look where we are. We’re in Birmisia, for heaven’s sake.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
The fish was excellent. All in all, Zeah thought the meal could have rivaled Mrs. Colbshallow’s cooking, maybe not Mrs. Colbshallow at her best, because at her best she was unrivaled, but Mrs. Colbshallow on an average day. He thought that he could become used to the Potatoes Kasselburg, sliced and baked and layered with cheese and pepper and some spices that he wasn’t familiar with. It was a more than satisfactory meal. They drank water with dinner, but near its end, Zeah uncorked a bottle of fine red wine.
“I was thinking,” said Egeria as she brought the red wine to her red lips. “The day after tomorrow would be the appropriate day to become engaged.”
“Why is that?” asked Zeah, not really realizing what she had said.
“You know. It’s the twentieth. It’s the traditional day of starting new tasks. It would be a fine time to become engaged.”
“Engaged in what?”
“Engaged to be married.”
“Muh… muh… married?”
“It was good enough for the Bratihns.”
“I wonder… I wonder if Corporal Bratihn went off to fight alongside Master Terrence?”
“Don’t change the subject,” she said.
“I’m not trying to…”
“We don’t have to get married right away.”
“No. We can be engaged just as long as you like. We need to announce our engagement though so that all of the other men will know I’m taken.”
“Uh… Other men?”
“Many other men. They’re hovering around everywhere. They’re like bees.”
“Yes. They’re like bees, and I’m the honey. I can see them just waiting to get their stingers into me.”
“We have to announce our engagement,” he said.
“You have to ask me to marry you first.”
“No. You have to think up some very romantic way to propose marriage to me. You have two days.”
“The day after tomorrow.”
“Good,” she said. “Now that that’s out of the way, we can enjoy our wine.”
Zeah ran over this conversation in his head again and again the next day, and was never quite sure how exactly Egeria had maneuvered him into agreeing to ask her to marry him. He knew that jealousy had been the key, but who could blame him for being jealous. She was young and beautiful, and he was… well, him. He also knew that she was way too smart for him to outsmart her. She had said it herself. She was the most intelligent person in the colony. So after twenty four hours he was forced to go from wondering how it had happened and how to fix it, to trying to think of a romantic way to propose.