Of Chickens and Thieves
I was rewatching episode 4x01 last night and the scene in the kitchen inspred this little idea. And come on, the cook is rather funny, isn't she? Enjoy!
The Kitchen Tales
Of Chickens and Thieves
The Camelot kitchens were the heart of the castle. Of this Mary, head cook in the royal household of the Pendragons, was completely convinced. Without the kitchen and the staff that ran it, all Camelot would crumble. The courtiers couldn't eat anymore, the royals wouldn't be served their luxurious meals anymore and the servants would starve as well. In short, the Camelot kitchens were a necessity of life.
Taken all that into consideration Mary was of the opinion she should be treated with more respect than she received usually. People would often criticise her dishes, most of all her fabled pies, and complain about what they missed in their meals. Ungrateful specimens Mary thought them. They should come into the kitchen and prepare their meals themselves if they knew so well how everything should be prepared. Not that she would ever allow strangers into her domain. The kitchen was hers and no one who didn't work there should come in there, something some people seemed to forget whenever it suited them.
But all these complainers weren't the worst of her trouble. No, the real problem was caused by the thieves, those impatient types that couldn't wait for dinner to be served. And instead of asking for a treat, which she, admittedly, almost never gave them, they decided to take it for themselves. Most of these wannabe thieves were easily spotted and even more easily caught. No, it were the new knights that knew how to successfully rob a kitchen and she had just about enough of it.
Unfortunately today was hardly the day to wage war on the knights. It was Samhain and there was a feast being planned. The kitchens were crowded and busier than a bee colony in high summer. Mary found herself right in the very middle of it all, stirring sauce, ordering the suppliers about and ranting against the kitchen maid who had been so stupid as to burn the chicken.
'I swear it wasn't like that when I last checked on it!' the stupid girl wailed when confronted with the result of her failed attempt at cooking.
Mary pointed a large spoon at the maid's chest. 'That is because you took your eyes off the chicken,' she pointed out in a threatening voice. 'Only to stare at that hopeless good-for-nothing boy over there.' The spoon was now directed at the blushing lad on the other end of the hall, who had come in with one of the suppliers to carry the vegetables into the inner sanctum that was her kitchen.
'I'm sorry ma'am,' the girl told her. 'But I swear I didn't lose the chicken out of sight for more than half a minute, I promise.'
Mary very much doubted that. The meat was badly burnt. Such a thing didn't happen in half a minute. 'Now don't you start lying to me, young lady,' she warned her. 'That looks far worse than a half a minute burn. What did you think you were doing? Did you think that the chicken would magically tell you whenever it was ready so you didn't have to watch it all the time?'
More experienced kitchen maids would have known that this was the time to back off, but this girl was pretty new to the staff and she didn't know. 'Well, that would be nice, ma'am,' she replied, the hint of a smile audible in her voice.
But if she was hoping to joke her way out of this, she was badly mistaken, because this was a feasting day and then Mary was never in the joking mood. 'Well, then you better think again, girl. Magic is outlawed in this kingdom, so you have to rely on your own wits, if they are present, to do the work.'
'I was,' the girl foolishly interjected.
'No, you most definitely were not,' Mary contradicted. The proof of that was after all right in front of them, black-burned and stinking of smoke. 'Do you have any inkling of the importance of our work?' The answer was obviously a no, but she still asked, for good measure.
'We feed the royal household, right?' the girl asked hesitantly.
'Right, we do,' Mary said, nodding, but still having the feeling that the real importance was not yet clear to this one. 'So, what do you think would happen if we all let our chickens burn?'
The girl bit her lip. 'I imagine we'd starve. Or we'd eat burnt chicken.'
This was just infuriating. 'If we'd all let the chicken burn, then there would be no feast tonight. And if there would be no feast hosted at Samhain, then that would reflect badly on the King and Prince. Do you have any idea what would happen if the image of our ruler was being damaged?'
All she got was an incredulous look. 'I don't know, ma'am.'
'Well, then other kingdoms would think Camelot weak!' Mary pointed the spoon against the maid's chest to drive the point home. 'And they'd be right too, because our people got nothing to eat, because you let the chicken burn to ogle at that boy!' Her voice steadily rose, but apparently that was called for in this particular situation. 'And when other kings believe our kingdom to be weak, they'll attack us because we, with our empty bellies, won't be able to defend it!'
That shut her up nicely. The kitchen maid stared at her employer in sheer disbelief, jaw dropping. 'Are you saying that because I burnt the chicken, we may need to go to war?'
'That is exactly what I am saying!' Mary bellowed, glad that she at least seemed to have some kind of understanding of what was at stake here. 'So I'd better not find you as much as glancing at that lad again, or it'll be you we serve on the spit!'
She left the maid to stew that over and made her way across the kitchen to check on the sauce another of her apprentices was making. But of course things never went that smoothly in the kitchens of Camelot, or Camelot in general come to think of it. She was only halfway when she had a run-in with the prince's manservant Merlin. That boy had a history of stealing her food and if he thought she didn't know that he was using magic out of all things to do it, then he was badly mistaken!
Mary didn't really mind the magic bit. She was pretty sure every guard in Camelot as well as all the servants were completely aware of it and as long as he did no real harm with it, he was welcome to his small pranks of dropping trousers and cheating with the knight's training. And even she had to admit that the boy had his uses from time to time. One of the guards, Allan, had told her lately the boy had single-handedly destroyed a dangerous beast that had a group of civilians cornered in the square.
No, the magic she was perfectly all right with Mary. What was not all right was that the boy also frequently used his powers to steal treats meant for the royals from her kitchen for private consumption. She doubted he was aware of it, but those thefts had brought her closer to reporting him to the king than anything else.
And today of course was no exception to the rule. The prince's manservant weaved his way through the crowds with practised ease, ducking underneath plates and neatly avoiding the serving staff as if he was born to do so. However, he did steal a handful of cookies from a nearby working bench and he took another one from a plate a passing serving girl was carrying just before he caught sight of a very displeased head cook, who pointed the spoon at his chest, not unlike she had done with the kitchen maid not five minutes previously.
'What are you doing in my kitchen?' she demanded.
Merlin looked thoroughly shocked to see her so shortly after lifting several of her precious bakery. 'Uh…' came the very intelligent sounding reply. 'The prince's shirt!' He blurted the words out, looking warily at the spoon that was still uncomfortably close to his chest.
If that was the truth, then it wasn't the whole truth and Mary narrowed her eyes at the secret sorcerer – or not so secret, when one took in account how many people were actually aware of his powers – swinging the ladle in his direction. 'That had better be true, young man,' she told him in as threatening a voice as she could manage.
'I swear!' Merlin exclaimed, his eyes never leaving the ladle that Mary was known to use as effectively as the knights used their swords. The effect was more or less the same too: nobody wanted to be on the receiving end of it. 'I'm just here for the prince's shirt!'
Why exactly someone would hang a shirt out to dry in the kitchen out of all places was a mystery to Mary. Sure, it was always warm and that made clothing dry fast, but it wasn't the only warm spot in Camelot.
'Then go and get it,' Mary told the sorcerer. 'And then straight out of my kitchens again, do you hear?'
The boy nodded frantically, turning so drastically that he almost sent the delivery man to the ground with the force of literally bumping into him. He called out a quick apology, before he fled to the other end of the kitchen as fast as his legs could carry him.
'And keep your dirty fingers off my food!' Mary called out after him. 'Do you understand?'
Merlin either did not hear or pretended he did not hear. Mary kept an eye on the clumsy servant as he made his way to where the shirt was hanging, suspiciously enough right above the already roasted chicken, right underneath an air vent that came out in a corridor above. The head cook smiled to herself as she set to work at the sauce, that was coming together rather nicely. She was almost certain that Merlin would try to make use of this opportunity. Ten to one he would not realise that this was perhaps just a little too perfect.
She turned out to be right. From the corner of her eye she could see the shirt removed from the hook and then another hook, hanging from a rope was slowly lowered towards the table. Merlin studied it with a quizzical look on his face for half a second, before he realised that evidently someone up there must be lowering it. She thought it would be safe to assume some of the new knights must be behind it. Sir Gwaine always had a healthy appetite and seemed capable of smelling a roast chicken from the other end of the castle. Sir Percival had a hungry and mischievous streak as well, so he might be behind this latest less-than-subtle stealing attempt as well.
The kitchen staff of course saw the hook, but they all made a point of ignoring it. Anna, Mary's most important assistant, shot Mary a knowing look and the head cook nodded in approval. One last theft and then this whole sorry business would be over. Strangely she found herself looking forward to what was to come.
'He has no idea, does he?' Sarah, the kitchen maid standing next to Mary, asked with a merry twinkle in her eyes. She was a very promising apprentice who cared about this kingdom as much as her employer did. Her only fault was that she got distracted by a certain sir Leon every now and then. The girl had a hopeless crush on the knight for almost three years now, but in this case she was in complete agreement with her boss: stealing was a crime, whether one was a knight, servant or Camelot guard.
'They will have within a few hours,' Mary chuckled with black humour.
Some people would think it treason to wish ill on the esteemed knights, but in Mary's eyes it was an even greater treason to plunder the supplies of the royal household of the Pendragons. Unfortunately treason was punishable by death, but stealing wasn't, especially not if it was something as harmless as a simple pie, or so she had been told by Lord Agravaine. Mary had disliked the man ever since. There was something very sinister about him. Mark my words, that man will turn out badly, Mary had told Sarah that day. He dressed in dark clothes, which was suspicious in and out of itself, he had this annoying ability to sneak up on people and last but certainly not least, he didn't think stealing food was a crime, which was his worst vice by a long distance.
But the prince and his uncle might not bother with punishment for stealing food, then Mary would do it herself. With grim satisfaction she saw Merlin attaching the hook to one particular good looking and smelling chicken, give the rope a tug and then quickly dart out of the kitchen as someone from upstairs started to lift the chicken.
Mary decided to keep up appearances for a little while longer. 'Oi!' she called after the sorcerer. 'What do you think you're doing?'
He turned around, unleashing that wide smile on her that had most of the kitchen maids swooning at his feet. 'Nothing!' he replied in a far too cheerful voice. 'Look, I didn't take anything!' He held out his hands to demonstrate his point.
She waved the spoon in his direction. The warning gesture was as impressive from halfway across the kitchen as it was from up close: it still succeeded in making the young man stagger back, wiping the smile off his face in the process. 'You'd better not have, boy, or I'll be sure to inform the prince.'
That had been the wrong thing to say, because the smile returned at full force. Mary should have remembered that the prince was very lenient towards his manservant. The head cook sometimes wondered if the heir to the throne was aware of the boy's magical powers, but dismissed the idea when she remembered that the prince still seemed to think Merlin was an idiot.
The boy turned around and ran out of the kitchen at full speed, obviously glad he had managed to get out of this without getting whacked over the head. Mary shook her head and smirked. This was not the end and the thieves would know it.
Later that night when she made her way home again, she passed the privy. She waited for a moment and then she heard the moaning of people who were having some problems with the activities of their belly. She made out the voices of sir Gwaine and sir Percival, exactly as she had already been suspecting.
'How was the chicken, gentleman?' she called through the door. 'Tasty, was it?'
The moaning stopped for a moment. The silence was disbelieving and lasted for several seconds. And Mary the head cook smiled to herself and went home, feeling quite pleased with herself.
Her kitchens weren't plundered for many months to come.