Story for the Day: Ruta
Before Martje gained command of the keep's range, there was Ruta, the old kitchen master, whose mission it was in life to feed Alasdair as much as she did his father.
Meeting the keep’s kitchenmaster and assessing her now at such convenience allowed him to comprehend the whole of her compactness: she was a small woman, plump and hardy, always fluttering about her range, her hands never without a something to mark her station, her hair a fiery bramble tied beneath her mop cap, her bristly fringe billowing out and spilling over her forehead, her round face affable, her eye keen and kindly, and her manner jovial and good-hearted. She was a happy woman, one who championed in her profession, who triumphed in puddings and pies, and whose dominant proclivity in life was to feed everyone under her charge. Though she was much smaller than Bryeison had expected, her open temper and subrisive character granted a something like grandeur to a woman who was shorter than the prince. She triumphed in chocolates, gloried in treacles and jams, reveled in breads and muffins, and adored every garnishing, every intimation of flavour, every lingering scent that her work could warrant. The rosy tinge in her complexion, congregating in the center of her rounded cheeks, afforded her a jollity that must invite only the broadest of smiles. Bryeison liked Ruta, liked her still more when he observed how much Draeden admired her and how willing and pleased she was to appease him.
“Aye,” she laughed, “I got your oats and meats almost ready for you.”
“Thank the Gods,” Draeden said, with a languishing sigh. “I shall be half dead soon.”
“We’ll revive you a bit. I’ve already done the toast there.”
Draeden attacked the bread basket at the centre of the table, shoving a thick slice in his mouth, and taking another two in his hands. “Is there any lime curd?” he said, his words muted by the sounds of his audible mastications, but no sooner had he said it than Ruta placed the small jar of lime curd before him. He muffled through his thanks and munched the slice between his teeth, spreading generous helpings of lime curd on each of his supernumerary pieces with rampant exultation.
“Well,” said Ruta, turning to Bryeison, “you sure found His Highness’ favourite place.”
“I can see why,” said Bryeison, smiling at the prince’s ardent gnashing.
“Aye, they all love it well enough, the Majesty and the company he keeps. He’s a good, quiet man as e’er there were and likes his privacy sure enough when he’s with His Highness, as should be for lovin’ father and son. Most days he eats in the chambers, but of a time he likes to sit here for his tea and admire the field. His Highness is just the same, only a little less of a polish.”
Draeden, disliking his title being used without his sanction, looked up from his meal and glared at Ruta, ready to make his remonstrances when checked by her high mirth, marked by her blithesome eyes, her hand clamped over her mouth, and her darkening complexion. “What?” Draeden demanded, his lips lined with lime curd, his stubble garlanded with crumbs.
“You should save those for the birds,” said Bryeison.
Draeden touched his stubble, watched a few crumbs tumble down, and glowered at Bryeison, continuing to eat his toast how he liked.
“Aye, let His Highness be, biggun,” said Ruta, wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes. “We small folk gotta have somethin’ for ourselves, even if only eatin’. You bigguns take up all the room. We gotta catch up to you, even if only sideways. Stretch me out and I’d be your height from side to side, but His Highness don’t gain a-nothin’ no matter how much I feed him. He’d have to eat all day and night to be half my size an’ o’.”
“I think he would live in the larder, if you allowed him.”
“He half lives in the larder already,” Ruta fleered. “Gotta keep a few pies and cakes about, in case he has a bit of a panic.” She raised a hand and said in a half-whisper, “He’s a worrier.”
Bryeison made a knowing grin. “Is he.”
“Aye, and the worriers need somthin’ to eat for their worries.”
“And you don’t worry with so much to do?”
Ruta shook her head. “I like a bit o’ work. Only worry when His Highness is hungry and not ten feet away from the kitchen when his hunger starts to eat at him.”
“Is that why he refuses to go beyond the castle walls?”
Ruta glanced dotingly at Draeden, who was demolishing the last of the toast. “He likes to keep the Majesty company,” she said, in an undervoice, “and same for him. Till you came, biggun, His Highness didn’t keep much with the other young-uns his age. If you don’t mind me sayin’, they ain’t good enough for him. All that frippery makes ‘em look well an’ o’, but it don’t make ‘em too bright, if you follow me.”
“I do,” Bryeison smiled.
“The Majesty raised him well, teachin’ him about the value of everyone in the keep and the kingdom. He’s a gentle soul, the Majesty, and His Highness is just such another. He’s Frewyn’s son as much as he is the Majesty’s, and we gotta look after him if we want the kingdom protected.”
A meaningful look was exchanged here, and they turned back to Draeden, who was hunting after every last crumb of toast in the crevices of the basket.