The lay-out of food was almost exactly as Kael remembered it, with the addition of what had to be a couple modern foods. Everything was set up on one long table, with three tables for eating at – Joaon had built one of those tables by hand, she remembered. She could still see the adze marks.
There were several people sitting at the tables – the gift-shop man and a woman in a smock and loose pants, another girl in the same outfit as the gift-shop man, and one person who caught Kael’s eye immediately.
They were not wearing clothing that marked them as part of the staff, but they were so utterly the epitome of Hoeraijen handsomeness that they – he, had to be male – took Kael’s breath away. He was wearing what she thought were modern clothes, sitting by himself at the end of a table, and he was reading while he ate.
She knew Mr. Vibius was talking to her. She knew she had to pay attention to him. She bowed to him in the Hoeraijen style. “Thank you. I should, I should meet my, ah, co-workers?”
“Oh, yes. Of course. I do want to know more about this, uh, this Kael not being Hoija. Maybe Professor Deilan- Over there. Maybe he could tell me more?”
“I’ll talk to him about it,” Kael assured him. Professor. She remembered at the last minute that she was not supposed to know all about the food set up. “So is all this-”
“It’s real food, it’s edible, it stays in your system like real food, it gives you energy like real food and you will gain weight from it.” He patted his potbelly with what seemed like affection. “But it appears every day and then whatever’s left just vanishes. So eat away! It’s just not good for storing up.”
That had been because it would go bad more quickly than “real food” and her workers were making their rooms stink, hoarding. Some of her workers. And it was not quite as nutritious or as filling as “real food,” at least it hadn’t been. She wondered how much Mr. Vibius had eaten.
“Thank you.” She fished out some of her favorite things, in quantities sufficient to what she really needed after all the potion-making she’d been doing (and after being asleep for a thousand years!) and moved over to sit down next to the handsome Hoeraijen man.
He, in turn, looked at her, took a second look, and then blushed. “My apologies. I didn’t realize we had a new Kael again. Do you know what happened to the last one?”
Some residue of the potion told her he was more startled than just that. She shook her head and answered just the question he’d actually asked. “No, I’m afraid not. They didn’t tell me anything at all when they sent me here.”
“Well, all the same, welcome. I’m Dennor Hightower.” He did a little bow over his book.
She bowed back at him. The gesture was not all that different than the Hoeraija had done all those days before. But then she realized that the gesture and the introduction – well, she was going to have to introduce herself in turn.
She cleared her throat. “I suppose it’s easiest if you call me Kael.”
Gently, as if correcting a newcomer – which she supposed she was, in a sense, he informed her: “When it’s just us, as at dinner, those who have a role in the museum generally use their given names.”
Well, there went that one. Kael cleared her throat yet again. “The thing is, my parents… did give me that name. It’s, ah. Complicated.”
And the thing was, that was actually completely true.
He raised his eyebrows. “That’s an interesting name. Did it lead you to this, ah, this job path?”
Something told her that the word wasn’t flattering.
She decided that she would go with another try on completely honest and misleading.
“Yes and no. When I started researching the woman I was named for, I decided that I wanted to try to replicate her life as much as possible.”
“You know,” he answered slowly, “well you probably know, Kaelingrade Torrent-Step is not the first ‘Kael’ in the history of the Hoija.”
“I know,” she answered just as slowly, and with raised eyebrows that were not nearly as stern as she wanted them to be, “that Kaelingrade is not a Hoeraijen name, but neither is ‘Kael’ a Lerienoijen name. And that the Kael for whom Kaelingrade Torrent-Step was named was neither Hoeraija nor Lerienoija.”
He raised his eyebrows right back at her. “You’re not here for the free food and the pretty robes.”
She let herself smile. “No. Those, like the pretty apartment, are a nice additional benefit.”