My sister has vanished from the haunts of men this week, and generally I’m busy until she gets back, and I’m also halfway through rewriting Of the North (according to the word count, that is, and barring unforeseen developments). So, have a post that doesn’t take long to write.
This was, oddly enough, probably my favourite chapter when I first wrote Of the North. Not anymore — this one has inaccuracies all over the place (such as: she’s back from spending three years in eleventh-century England, but you can’t tell, because she’s no different from before; and the whole augmentation of arms thing doesn’t work that way), and the style of the writing makes me cringe.
In the new version of OtN, this chapter doesn’t fit. It messes up timelines and all sorts of things. But before I cut it, I thought I’d share it here, as a bonus or something. Fun, if not particularly valuable to the story as a whole anymore.
None of the songs quoted in this are mine, and all that.
I like the characters.
The Feast Song
Crown Tourney that fall saw Æschild in the kitchen for almost the entire event, after the person originally supposed to be in charge had a family emergency at the last minute and been unable to attend. It was her first time serving in the kitchen at an event, let alone as the one in charge, and she didn’t get to see one bit of the fighting, the cooking kept her so busy. In the first place, she hadn’t been expecting the duty at all, and got to site about an hour after gates opened, only to find frantic people rushing about nearly in tears, and offered to help. That offer got her stuck away from all the fighting all day –– it would hardly be true to say she was kept away from all the action, as the kitchen had plenty of that.
First it appeared that about ten people too many had managed to sign up for dayboard, so Æschild’s assistants, William and Thomas, went running to all the people they knew to beg for Feast ware.
“It wasn’t as if you could just say, ‘Sorry, we’ve got a hundred people signed up already, we can’t seat any more’,” Æschild said. “Oh no, these people are all pointy hats, and we’ve got to let them in.”
“I suppose it happens sometimes,” said a lady passing through. “May I take some water from this cooler?”
“Sure. How’s it going out there?” Æschild asked, filling the cup the lady held out.
“Pretty well. It’s hot, but I’ve not as much to complain of as the fighters.”
“I should think not.”
“It’s pretty warm in here, though. I don’t envy you your job. I’d help if I could, but I’ve got a passel of children to run after, and I daren’t leave them alone any longer. I do hope you get things under control, though.”
“It’s that kind of talk that doesn’t help any,” William said, grabbing an apple. “First they tell you how hard your job must be, and then they say they wish they could help, but of course they can’t, and then they say something that leaves you wondering whether they actually think you’re competent to do the job.”
The food for dayboard was fairly light and simple, but all afternoon went into preparing the evening’s feast. Some goblin or other hanging around the kitchen, Æschild often had reason to think, must have been bent on causing every possible inconvenience.
“An’ now we’re out of turnips,” William grumbled, just after the afternoon’s Court started and the three were still in the kitchen, trying to get everything that needed cooking into an edible state by the time Court was over. “Why couldn’t it be something yucky, like the carrots?”
“Go boil your head; it might make a decent substitute,” Thomas replied. He had been hanging over a pot for most of the afternoon, making the soup, and his face was beet red.
Æschild, lifting a heavy pot off the stove, where it was holding various vegetables she was boiling, said sharply, “That kind of talk will get us all in hot water if you don’t look out. Move away from the sink now, I’m coming over!”
William backed up too quickly in the wrong direction and bumped right into her. The pot slipped and spilled boiling water down her left leg, scorching the knee she instinctively put out to catch it. She dropped the pot and backed up, trying to grab her dress and wring it out, but finding it too hot to touch.
“I’m so sorry,” William apologized, all his grumpiness gone. He grabbed a towel from a pile on the counter nearby and threw it to her, grabbed another for himself, and began mopping up the floor. “I’m so awfully sorry. I honestly didn’t do it on purpose, honest. Will you be all right?”
“It hurts. . . a lot,” Æschild said, wrapping the boiled folds of her dress in the towel and squeezing it. “It does hurt. I didn’t think you bumped into me on purpose. Oh, of all the other things that could have gone wrong, it had to be this now.”
“There go all the vegetables, not just the turnips,” Thomas was mean enough to say.
“William, clean up the carnage, if you would; and Thomas, try to finish the soup without, I don’t know, killing yourself. I’m going to the bathroom to see what I can do. Oh, and one of you, if the meat’s done before I get back, pull it out of the oven and put it on that big white platter. Don’t put the vegetables around it, though.”
“They say they’re more nutritious if you don’t wash off the dirt,” William called after her as she, still holding the left side of her skirt wrapped in the towel, limped out toward the bathrooms.
Upon inspection, her left leg was red and sore, but not too severely burned. The greater part of the damage was on her left knee, which was almost scorched where the metal pan, hot off the stove, had banged it. Her skirt was still wet and warm, but the only other ill effect was a little bit of felting (it was a wool dress and smock, and with that much boiling water, a little accidental felting was not unexpected).
Æschild, not entirely sure what to do for skin that hadn’t been burned so much as boiled, rinsed her leg in warm water, and then cold water, hoping that would help. It made most of her leg feel a little better, but didn’t help her knee any. She wrapped the towel around her leg to keep her skirts from chafing the skin, and returned to the kitchen.
“Do we have any honey in here, guys?” she asked her two helpers.
“Honey? What for?”
“My knee. Honey helps burns, I think.”
“There’s about a quarter of the bottle left over from breakfast,” Thomas said, holding it up. “Will that be enough?”
“It should. Then I’ll want something to wrap my knee in to keep the honey off my smock.” Æschild took the bottle of honey and sat down on a nearby chair.
“You’re not seriously hurt, are you? I mean, not badly enough to have to leave?” William asked her anxiously.
“No, I don’t think so,” Æschild said, accepting the thin dishtowel Thomas handed her. “This is clean, right, I hope?”
“It should be, I pulled it right out of the drawer,” Thomas said. “We don’t have a first aid kit in here. William looked while you were gone.”
“You could go out to the field and ask if there’s anyone serving as chirurgeon out there,” William suggested.
“I’d rather not. Um, guys, could you not look while I’m doing this? I know it’s just my knee, but still ––”
“Sure,” said William, turning his back and beginning to attack the soup with zeal. Thomas took the meat fork and poked the roast, making Æschild remember how she had been taking care of a similar cut of meat just before Sunnild’s wedding feast.
With the boys’ backs discreetly turned, Æschild pulled up her skirts and undid the towel, revealing a red, sore knee. She squeezed some honey out of the bottle into her hand and lightly touched her skin with it. The sting wasn’t unbearable yet. She slowly rubbed the golden lump around on her knee till the honey left her fingers and was where it really ought to be. It did feel good; it didn’t ease the pain entirely, but it was still soothing on her skin. She tied the dishtowel around her knee and made sure it was secure before standing up.
“Help any?” Thomas asked.
“Yes, some. Thanks for taking care of that meat. We need something to lay around it, though the vegetables are out of the question. Cheese, maybe. Do we have any cheese?”
“I think there was some left over from lunch,” Thomas said, rummaging in the refrigerator.
“Æschild, are you in here?” asked a lady, putting her head around the door. “You’ve been called into Court.”
“What!” cried Æschild, dropping the meat fork clattering on the counter. The boys froze, their mouths both hanging open. The three kitchen workers glanced at each other and stifled a giggle.
“Yes, hurry up,” said the lady, leaving.
“Oh dear,” Æschild said, feeling faint. She had never been called into Court before.
“You’ll do fine!” William called after her. “I’m going to nominate you for a Pelican, after today, anyway.”
“Yeah right,” she heard Thomas reply, and then the sound of a smack.
The aisle from the door of the room they were holding Court in all the way between hundreds of people (probably hungry people too) up to the thrones was endless. Æschild tried not to limp too noticeably as she made her way up it.
Kneel on the cushion in front of the thrones; that’s what it’s there for, she thought. This piece of advice for those called into Court she had heard many times. But how could she kneel at all, on a cushion or otherwise, with her knee in this state?
She knelt on one knee, her left leg at an awkward and uncomfortable angle, conscious of a great deal of pain in her left leg. His Majesty stood up to address her or the populace.
“Why aren’t you kneeling properly?” he asked her, bending down. Æschild had to look up to his face, which, with her legs the way they were, also stretched her back in a most uncomfortable way.
“I scalded my leg just now, and my knee’s pretty painful,” she said.
“Scalded your leg doing what?” he asked.
“With a pot of water in the kitchen. It was an accident.”
“Are you all right?”
“There’s no one else to make Feast, Your Majesty, and we’d already had a few –– setbacks, if you please.”
His Majesty addressed the crowd. “Æschild says she’d just burned herself, but there’s no one else to prepare our Feast this evening.” The people began laughing and Æschild’s cheeks burned under her headrail. Why couldn’t the King get to the point and let her go?
“Æschild,” said the King, “We called you into Court just now to present you with your Award of Arms for your service to the kingdom in serving wherever you can at events, in sharing your knowledge with others, and for your willingness to light the way. We were not prepared to find that you sacrificed so much so that We and Our populace might eat well this evening. I am sure when we sit down to Feast, we will all think of what you have given for us.” He reached behind him and held up a scroll for everyone to see. “Here you are.” He handed it to her and her fingers clasped it mechanically. She was too stunned to register anything.
“For the Lady Æschild Erices dohtor, Vivat!” cried the herald. His Majesty himself reached out his hand to help Æschild up, and she got stiffly to her feet with his aid. She limped back up the aisle amid shouts and cheers and clapping that was enough to deafen her.
“What was that about?” Thomas asked when Æschild got back to the kitchen.
“My AoA, of all ironic things for it to be,” Æschild said, holding her scroll up. “How’s things going?”
“You just got your AoA and you’re asking us about the food?” William inquired. “Lady Æschild.”
“I’m just a little overwhelmed with everything that’s been going on, okay? And now His Majesty is expecting it’d better be a good feast, if I went through all this trouble for it.”
“Well, we found the cheese, and sliced it up and put it around the meat,” William said, displaying the platter, “and that’s about all.”
“What else do we have left? What time is it anyway?”
“It’s five-thirty,” said Thomas, looking at the clock on the wall, which was hanging crookedly.
“And Feast was scheduled to be at five,” Æschild said. “We’re right on time, then. Let’s cover that meat so it stays warm, and then I think we’re about done.”
“We won’t make you serve tonight,” William told her, as Thomas clapped a large lid over the platter. “You can sit down and eat with the rest of them.”
“That sounds lovely,” Æschild sighed, falling into a chair. “It’s been one long day.”
As Æschild quietly took a seat at the far end of the tables, in a darkish corner where she could prop her leg up without drawing questions, and the boys brought out the first remove, someone struck up a song.
The hall is well crowded, the feast under way;
To cook and assistants all homage we pay.
But lest we forget those who serve us this day,
I ask you to raise up your glass:
To those who eat last and who give us the best
Let’s drink to the few who would serve all the rest. . . .
The boys gave Æschild a few significant glances throughout the course of the song, and were hardly able to serve her without dropping something in their effort to suppress their mirth and keep a seemly seriousness about their duty. But Æschild was thinking more of the last time she heard a bard singing, and it wasn’t at an SCA event, it was the Dane, Drustan, at Sunnild’s wedding feast.
By the time they served the last remove, Æschild was tired of seeing the exact same things she had slaved over, and injured herself for, all day long.
“How can we wreck dessert?” Thomas inquired when he dropped Æschild’s sweetmeats on her plate.
“I can think of a few ways,” William said.
“Don’t,” said Æschild. “Don’t spoil anything else.”
At the end of the meal she noticed William stop collecting plates, the way he and Thomas were supposed to be doing, and go to where Their Majesties and the new Royal Highnesses were seated at the center of the high table. He went on one knee beside the king and seemed to be asking for something, to which His Majesty responded with excited nods.
“It has been brought to my attention,” announced the King, standing up, “that the service done Us today in Our humble kitchens has been too great to be overlooked. However, as the person whom, I am told, is most deserving of recognition in this matter, is incapacitated due to a most unfortunate accident, We will not call her into Our, er, this impromptu Court of Ours. Instead, we will come to her.”
The four crowned heads left the table and came over to where Æschild was relaxing in her corner away from attention.
“Æschild –– no, you needn’t try to get up –– we don’t have a scroll or anything with us at the moment, so would you accept this from me as a token, and later we can ransom this with a proper reward?” As he spoke, the King took off a heavy golden ring he was wearing, inscribed with a Pelican’s device, signifying that he was of the Order of the Pelican.
“Ummm. . . I’m most grateful, your Majesty, and thank you ever so much!” Æschild managed to say, accepting the ring, and wondering whether she ought to take the king’s hand and bow, since she couldn’t kneel properly.
“See, I told you I’d see you got a Pelican,” William told her, when the royalty had gone back to the table. “I saw his ring when I was serving, and I thought, Oh, that would be neat, so I asked him a boon for my service, and told him my idea. He liked it, and so –– there you are.”
“Well, thank you,” Æschild said. “And thanks for serving me, too, and the dessert. It’s not spoiled or anything, that I know of.”
The boys even let her go right after Feast, saying they would clean up themselves, or find someone else to help them.
“You go home and get something proper done with your knee,” William told her. “Honest, I’m sorry.”
“You can stop saying that now. I know you didn’t bang into me on purpose. It’s not as if I’m dead or severely wounded.”
“Maybe I ought to apply for the office of Master of Assassins,” William said thoughtfully. “I think it’s open right now.” Thomas whacked him.
“Good night everybody,” Æschild said, gathering her bag of projects up from where it was sitting in a corner of the kitchen all day. “I didn’t think when I left the house this morning that I would be at Crown all day and not even be sure who the new Prince is.”
“Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I know either,” said William. “Have a safe drive home. Uh, you can still drive, can’t you?”
“Yes, you don’t use your left leg for driving,” Æschild assured him, beginning to feel that this endless talk of leg was a bit improper. “Good night.”
At her next event she was embroidering during Court when her name was called, and she set down her project and pulled the King’s ring out of her belt bag as she hurried up the aisle.
“I believe you have something of mine,” the King said, frowning down at her as she knelt, on both knees now as was right, “and I’d like it back.”
“At what price?” Æschild asked, to remind him of his promise to ransom his ring with an award.
“How about an Augmentation of your arms?” the king asked, holding up a scroll for all to see.
“Taken!” Æschild laughed, handing him his heavy ring. He bent and gave her the scroll.
“I trust you’re fully healed?” His Majesty asked as she got up.
“How will you augment arms that haven’t finished the registering process yet?” the herald asked, a little nervously.
“Find a way,” the King ordered. “Such things don’t happen every day.” And Æschild returned to her place amid much laughter.