"Surely you are joking."
Damalepazhur, king of Azhurahad and lord of the seven rivers, faced his supper table with weariness and dismay. It was richly set as ever, with silver cups and plates and an embroidered linen cloth beneath, but the food set upon it was nothing like the fare he was typically served. No roast duck, no figs, no sliced melon, no spices, no honey.
Damalepazhur picked up the loaf of dark, dense bread that would normally grace a peasant's table. "Lukaru, this cannot be the entirety of my supper."
His chamberlain was stoic. "It is simple but hearty. We must make do until a new cook is found, my lord."
"Very well." Damalepazhur sighed. "A new king's cook and a new steward. What a strange day this is." He picked up one of the jewel-like tangerines from its beaten brass bowl and began to peel it with his fingernails, studying Lukaru as he dismissed the servants and shut the chamber door. Tonight was no night for feasting: Damalepazhur had elected to take his supper in his own chambers. "Please join me. When you stand I believe you are waiting to be dismissed."
Lukaru knelt at the other side of the low table, folding his robes under his knees. "Damal," he said, and Damalepazhur smiled at the use of the childhood nickname, "I bought this food today in the market with my own coin. You can eat it without fear."
"I have no doubt I can eat it. However, there are two hundred other people to be fed in this palace--"
"They are being fed by the cook's assistants, my lord." Lukaru took out an eating dagger, sliced the bread, and prepared a bowl of oil and crushed peppercorns to eat with it. "They are in no danger of hunger. Or anything else that might harm them."
"Oh." Damalepazhur did not think often about the running of his palace, beyond saying "yes" or "no" when required. There were other people to balance accounts, hire underlings and be certain there were fresh linens on his bed when he returned from war. "Good. I had not thought of that."
"That is how we were able to track who poisoned the wine, my lord. Only the cook handled that bottle once it was opened."
"Well. As I said. Good. Then it is only I who is going hungry--and you, if you choose to share my meals." He passed over a peeled fruit to Lukaru, who exchanged it for bread and oil.
"I will happily share any meal with you, my lord." There was mischief in Lukaru's eyes as he bit into the bread with strong, white teeth. "I have not eaten this simply since I was a boy."
"Nor have I. Will you make me porridge in the morning as well, Lukaru? I always had porridge for breakfast in the nursery."
"I will do whatever my lord wishes," Lukaru said in a subservient tone, though his eyes said he would obey for other reasons. Damalepazhur smiled back and ate a segment of fruit.
"What did I do?" he asked, and Lukaru sighed. "No. Tell me. Of all the people within these walls, you will always tell me the truth. What did I do? Do I tax them too high?"
"No, my lord."
"Have I waged unnecessary wars?"
"No, my lord."
"Have I commissioned a public work that the priests declared obscene? Have I defiled the temples or mocked the ceremonies?"
"No, no," Lukaru said. "You know you have done none of these things. You are a just king. You are often impulsive, but you are young and this is a hallmark of youth. But you are king, my king," he said with emphasis. "And that means there will always be someone who wishes for your death."
Damalepazhur put down his slice of bread. "You are not a comfort to me, Lukaru."
"You have wives for that."
"I prefer you."