A Story for #PrimeDay: The Kitchen at the Keep
Today is Prime Day, the day on which those with Amazon Prime download as many books as their devices can hold. Those with Amazon Prime can download the Leaf Flute for free today. For all our other readers, enjoy the comfort of the one place where the whole world congregates: the kitchen at the Diras castle keep:
A moment passed, and Bryeison refilled his cup from the teapot. He lay the cup down momentarily, to turn the page in the herald and look disinterested, and as he took up his cup once more and brought it to his lips, he said, “The kitchen isn’t my domain, Brigdan. You don’t have to wait to be invited in.”
Brigdan hemmed and seemed embarrassed. “Perhaps, commander,” said he, moving only slightly forward, “but, as this is not my mother’s kitchen, I feel rather as though I’m intruding somehow.”
“Come on in, son,” Ruta beamed, returning by way of the larder. “Just sit down there, and take a tea with the biggun.”
The biggun, Brigdan conjectured, was Bryeison, and with a last look to the hall, to see whether Vyrdin were lingering anywhere about, Brigdan entered the oven room and went to the table, creeping by slow gradations, admiring the the small delights of the place as he went. The iron pots and pans suspended above him on a wicker loom, the painted porcelain stacked on the nearby the shelves, the steel range with its large burners all reminded him so much of home that Brigdan began to feel easy about his invasion. The perlieu from the table commanded a much broader view without, and with copses of cypress in the far field to fill his view, complemented by the sight of sliced gingerbread on the counter beside, Brigdan quietly reckoned that he felt more at home here than he did anywhere else in the keep. It was no wonder that Vyrdin rushed down here every morning to have his breakfast here rather than sit in the soldier’s mess. Would that Brigdan be given permission to enjoy his meals here, he believed he should never eat anywhere else, and he stood by the table for some time, remarking the all minutiae of a place that bore so striking a semblance to a home he had been compelled to leave behind him.
Bryeison’s gaze flickered from the page, watching Brigdan from the corner of his eye, and after allowing him to welter in all the modesty of the keep’s kitchen, he sipped his tea and said, “Sit.”
Brigdan instantly drew out a chair and sat down, and Bryeison at last put his paper aside.
“Have you eaten yet?” Bryeison asked.
Brigdan shifted in his seat. “No, Commander. I have only just left the barracks and came here. I did not stop at the mess in my way.”
A grin wreathed Bryeison’s lips, and he sipped his tea. “You’re in danger.”
“Danger of what, Commander?”
“What’s thishere? Not had a breakfast!” was the resounding cry.
“Of that,” said Bryeison, all hardy complacence.
Brigdan glanced over his shoulder and found Ruta mantling over him.
“What’s all this here,” Ruta demanded, “about you not havin’ a breakfast?”
“Well, I mean to, Ms Ruta, if that is your fear,” said Brigdan charily. “I only just came to speak to the commander—“
“My fear, son, is that someone came into my kitchen without havin’ what to eat and think he can sit while I can hear his stomach from here to Kileen. Here,” placing a few gingerbread slices in front of him, “you just eat that, and you’ve got scones and what else you like in front of you.”
“Thank you, Mr Ruta, but I could not possibly impose—“
“What imposin’?” Ruta snuffed. “Sure, what I do is feed what comes into my kitchen. You gonna sit there and be hungry, you won’t be allowed in here for long, son.”
Brigdan parused the various baked goods furnishing the table and hesitated. “Is it really proper for me to eat all of this, Commander?”
“You had better eat something before the real ruler of the kingdom punishes you,” said Bryeion laughingly, gesturing toward Ruta with his cup.
“Ah, go ‘long with you now, biggun,” said Ruta, waving a hand at him. “Sure, I don’t give punishments for eatin’ a good breakfast. A sour stomach is a punishment in itself. Can’t sit at this table, son, without eatin’. Rules are rules, and if you got an empty plate in front of you, you’ll fill it or not be welcomed here.”
Brigdan looked down, there was suddenly a plate in front of him, a spoon and spreading knife appirated along with a sundry of jams and curds, a basket of biscuits and muffin were thrust at him, and Brigdan glanced fearfully about, a fierce look radiated from beside him, and when he turned to Bryeison for counsel on how to conduct himself in the king’s kitchen, Bryeison only smiled and looked unassuming, effecting to be more interested with his tea than he was with Brigdan’s sense of propriety.
“Do forgive my saying so, Ruta,” said Brigdan, in a plaintive voice, “but I feel somewhat strange taking from the king’s table. As much as I should like to accept your generous offer, this is not my home, and I’m sure that I ought to consider the royal family first.”
Ruta looked bemused, blinked, and then looked at Bryeison. “What’s he on about, biggun, not wantin’ to eat from my table?”
“He feels as though he’s stealing from the royal family,” was Bryeison’s kind answer.
Ruta grimaced and arched a brow. “Ain’t no stealin’ round here when I’m after givin’ you a plate. The Highness steals. He comes slenchin’ in here near every night, groakin’ after the pies and cakes I make for the servants’ hall. What’re you fearin’, son? You afraid the Majesty’ll come in, see you eatin’ here, and be disappointed? The Majesty’s takin’ his breakfast in his room th’day anyhow. Business is keepin’ him well up in his quarters, but he never eats a scone or a biscuit this time o’ day. He likes a biscuit now and then of a gloamin’, but I make all this for everyone else what wanders in to my kitchen. You’re very welcome to it. I made more than usual, ‘cause the biggun told me you were comin’ anyhow.”
Here was a ardent look at Bryeison. “He told you I was coming?”
“Aye,” Ruta sang. “The biggun always knows, son. You’ll come to get used to it.”
Ruta gave his shoulder a sympathetic pat and swept away to the larder, and Brigdan was left to wallow in all the misery of thwarted civility. He claimed a biscuit for his plate, and while inspecting the several jams, Brigdan mumbled to himself something about Bryeison always knowing.
“You were up with Vyrdin until about an hour before sunrise,” said Bryeison, adding warm milk to his tea. “I was up early for the shipment of new cerns. I heard the two of you arguing over your game. I thought you would be here to continue the argument or have another round before training.”
“Well,” said Brigdan, in a mortified voice, “that idea had crossed my mind, Commander, but I confess that is not why I’m here.” He lavished his biscuit with raspberry jam and clotted cream, and after beginning to eat, the first fulmination of mellifluous bliss burst upon him, and he hummed in rapture, leaning against the table and staring at his breakfast with unmitigated delight. “By the Gods,” he sighed, in an ecstasy, “I have not had a biscuit this lovely in all my life.”
“Try the lemon curd on the scone,” Bryeison encouraged him, pushing the material toward him.
“Oh, this is more than enough, Commander—“ Brigdan began, but the insistent look, the fervent stare told him that Bryeison would not be denied. He did as his commander ordered, and with subversive movements, fearing his extravagance of cream and lemon curd should be seen by fellow officers, he ate one half of a decorated scone, and dissipated in his seat. “That is—really—“ he began, but he checked himself, feeling himself getting lost in all the majesty of baked goods and well-made preserves. “Honestly, Commander,” said Brigdan, recollecting himself, “I understand now why you spend your mornings here. I admit, if I had such a beautiful display to wake up to every morning, I might reconsider my training in favour of offering myself as cook’s apprentice.”
“You’d be no good to me, son,” said Ruta, taking a ladel down from the wrack above. “A cook’s assistant is no assistant what’s too afraid to eat my cookin’. What you can do for me is best done with a scone in one hand and a spoon in the other so.”
“I suppose I’ll keep my post then, if I can be of no other use to you,” said Brigdan, smiling. “Did you always spend your mornings here, Commander?”
Bryeison put his cup down and looked mindful. “Draeden and I have been spending our mornings here since we were fifteen.”
“Aye,” Ruta chimed, “and I remember the biggun bein’ just as shy about comin’ in here as you were, son.”
Brigdan seemed amused. “That is very odd. I cannot imagine the commander being diffident about anything.”
“I had been at the keep only a few days by the time Draeden got me to eat his meals with him,” said Bryeison. “I ate in the stables with Roreigh and Deais until His Majesty invited me to have dinner with him and Draeden. Since then, I’ve been having my breakfast here. Draeden and I only spend time in the mess to show some solidarity with our regiments, but Draeden always comes here when he needs something to eat.”
“Is that why he slips out of training so often? I confess I thought it was to visit the latrine.”
Bryeison rumbled in quiet mirth. “If Draeden allowed himself to eat as much as he usually does while at the mess, the entire garrison would go hungry.”
“The Highness has got to have his meals here,” Ruta insisted. “He can’t be eatin’ no rations when it’s not wartime. He’d die of starvation sure enough.”
“But I have seen him eat two or three bowls of oats when he is with us in the mess.”
“That’s just the beginning of his midday meal,” said Bryeison, with an ardent look. “He comes in here throughout the afternoon and eats far more than what he does in the mess.”
“But, if that is true, Commander,” asked Brigdan, “how did he survive when you went away to the north?”
“Fifty pounds of dried goods brought him safely to Livanon.”
“And your survival training?”
Bryeison bowed his head and smiled. “I have never seen anyone eat so much grass and raw fish. Draeden was nearly green when we came back.”
“Aye,” Ruta giggled, “he looked like a wild man, with all ‘em twigs sproutin’ from his hair and dry mud cracked over him from teeth to toes. The Majesty was in such a fright over it. I made him such a dinner when you came back.” She shook her head. “Never seen anythin’ eat pork bone stew like that before, bones and all.”
“Everyone in the keep congregates around this table at some point during their time here.”
“Aye, even Pastaddams and Aghatha come here for their tea of an evening if there’s none to be got in the sevant’s hall. And Searle will come in when his Majesty is here. Better finish what you can, son,” gesturing to the bread basket. “The whirlwind’ll be here soon, and once His Highness sits at the table, there’ll be nothin’ left for anyone else.”
Brigdan continued his breakfast, enjoying the rare privilege of soft scones and sweetened stews, but when he looked up from his plate, to ask whether he should be allowed a cup of tea, he found Bryeison offering him a sobering look.