Melisande quickly spoke up. "Laurel was having a difficult day at the Customs office."
"Desk work?" said Stephen. "I suppose so. You never really liked that sort of thing."
"Well, it's been okay, if boring. But your wife thinks I caused some kind of disaster today."
"Oh?" said Stephen, as Edward headed toward the kitchen with the packages. "Which kind?"
His wife threw a small cushion at him. "You're not helping. She's screening applicants for commercial agents, and I'm afraid she may have let in something that we don't want."
"And that would be--"
From the kitchen came Edward's voice. "Crosswort?" He returned to the sitting room to join them. "I hope you're not saying you don't want that," he said. "We just brought you several ounces of it for Easter dinner."
"Well, no, I don't mean that. Of course we need it. I mean maybe some bad crosswort. One of the applications Laurel approved today sounds suspect."
"But why?" asked Laurel. "It didn't look suspect."
"That's the problem. You didn't give it a long enough look." She turned back to her husband. "Last Thursday they assigned her to process application forms from people who take dock-side delivery of imported goods on behalf of the people who actually ordered them."
"She was supposed to do a reference check on each of them, using the customs library."
"Good grief," said Stephen. "Each one?"
"That's why the job requires a mage and why I'm interning there," said Laurel. "I do a Summon-and-Bind spell that links the form to the appropriate books, and use the spell to check each entry on that form. Normally it works fine, although it takes time because I have to do a spell for each item on each form. It's quicker than pulling down the different volumes and flipping through them--but it still adds up to a lot of time, since all agents have to submit fresh applications for each shipment."
"So she tried to reduce that time, and--"
"Well, today I had to! We got a huge pile of applications, and there just wasn't any way I could get them all done by the end of the day. I'd still be there, working on them, and probably wouldn't get finished until tomorrow afternoon, by which time there would be still more of them."
"Hmm. So you shortened the checking routine," said Edward. "How?"
And you have the right to interrogate me? she thought. Boy, what a relationship this turned out to be. Boy meets girl, girl likes boy, boy uses his Talent to damage girl's brother's brain during brother's Senior Ordeal, girl realizes boy is basically pond scum. Your classic romance story. And since his atonement for his crime is to help heal the almost-permanent damage he did to Stephen, I'm still stuck with him.
Shooting him a glare, she said, "I figured that the primary entries we were concerned with were--" she ticked them off on her fingers, "--who was applying, what they were importing, and where it came from. So I worked up a batch spell that would go through all the applications, focusing on those three items and looking for--" she manually counted again, "--whether the agents had criminal records or complaints against them, whether the proposed import was on the Ministry's list of goods we don't want brought in, and whether the country it came from was on our we're-at-war-with-or-soon-will-be list."
Edward nodded. "Seems like an efficient method to me. I like it."
She scowled. Trying to make nice, are you? Forget it. You took away Stephen's magic, and now you have to help him get it back. But even with magic, you'll never have me for a friend again.
Stephen looked thoughtful. "So far, so good. What's the trouble?"
"That's just it. It isn't so good," said his wife. "Tell us about the crosswort application."
Stephen's eyebrow went up. "Imported crosswort? Someone doesn't like the domestic kind?"
Edward joined in with, "How did you notice it, if you were using a batch spell?"
"I did look at them, you know," Laurel retorted. "I didn't just cast the spell over them sight unseen." To her brother she said, "From what I understand, we don't have a large surplus. If everyone in the realm makes Easter lamb with the traditional recipes, we might wind up with a shortage afterward. It seemed to make sense to me. But that's why I remembered it."
"So what was the problem?" asked Stephen. "The agent?"
Laurel shook her head. "Hawick & Scarborough--reputable, well-established. 'Official Supplier to His Majesty,' et cetera, et cetera."
"And they'd be acting for..."
"The Royal Guard. That's another reason I remembered this one. It isn't every day something royal crosses your desk. I assume it's for Easter dinner."
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem," said Melisande, "is that the shipment is coming from the province of Dreismark in Grestig. That's what the problem is."
The men wore blank looks. Edward said, "So Grestig exports crosswort. Doesn't sound unusual. What's the problem with that?"
Melisande harrumphed. "With Grestig, none. But the soil in Dreismark province has something in it that does strange things. Flowers are okay, but some of the other plants.... You know that normally crosswort has a slight euphoric effect?"
"That's right," said Edward, "in larger amounts it's used to treat melancholia. I suspect that's also one reason it was ordained for the traditional Easter dinner--besides adding flavor, it would also lift everyone's spirits. So?"
"So," Melisande shot back, "for a few people this herb has the opposite effect--they wind up deeply melancholic, even suicidal. And when it's grown in Dreismark province, that would be all people, not just a few. This stuff is dangerous--possibly deadly."
Stephen let out his breath slowly. "Wow. And the Royal Guard ordered this? Wouldn't they know what they were doing?"
"I have no idea; I don't think it's common knowledge. Maybe there's someone in the Guard who does know; and then the question becomes, who and why? Or maybe Hawick & Scarborough placed the actual order, and they need to be checked out. But whatever the case, someone's about to be seriously drugged--and today's events helped to make it happen." She looked at Laurel. "Your 'batch spell' looked for political problems, but not for health problems. I'm sure the Customs library has documents on them--and the regular check would have caught this."