"To be honest, I would ask Drou," his mother said. "She's been shopping for the girls since forever. If anyone would have insights, it'd be her."
Mark swallowed. He had a grudging truce with Commodore Koudelka now, but Madame Koudelka was not to be trifled with. She was outwardly polite, for sure, but his back itched around her. "I was thinking maybe new earrings?" he offered.
Mother frowned. "They're important because she chose them herself," she said gently. "It'd be like buying you new pants in the size she wanted you to be."
"Oh." He felt deflated. "Um, I'll just ask Martya."
"I've never been able to shop for Kareen," Martya said. "Sometimes she's such a tomboy and then sometimes she's so girly. I just ask mama to buy her something. She always seems to pick something just right."
Mark was starting to think even asking Madame Koudelka might be a bit less scary than trying to shop on his own. "Maybe I should try that."
Martya mock-smacked him, "If you do, I'll tell. You're her boyfriend. Think of something."
For Winterfair, Martya had bought him a goat. Or rather, a goat sponsorship. Some Dendarii hillperson was getting the benefit of the goat, while all he had was the certificate. Mark was so bemused by this that he nearly missed the moment Kareen pulled out the necklace.
"Oh!" his love said. She looked suddenly alive, and Mark drank in the spectacle hungrily, trying to fix the image in his mind. He made a quiet, modest noise, feeling very pleased with himself. So it wasn't just Madame Koudelka who could pick the right gift.
Then she turned to her left, and he saw his own gift still unopened in the stack. "This is beautiful. How did you know I wanted something like this, mama?"
Mark gritted his teeth in anticipation of future dire humiliation when his own identical gift was opened. So he nearly had this gift-giving thing down. All he had to do next year was assassinate her mother and he'd be set!