The strong sound, like metal clanking, resonates from the small device through the empty room. The sound is deafening, there’s no way someone could not wake up from this. A dim light enters from the only window in here, placed at the top of the north wall. These two are the only proof that it’s not still night outside.
Crini hesitates to get up but if she’d be late, someone powerful will be mad at her. And it’s a frequent event these days, so she doesn’t want to push her luck.
She gets up slowly, her muscles aching - still not fully rested from the previous day. With a few unsteady steps, she walks to one side of the room, where there is a bowl of fresh water and a small cube of soap next to it, lying on the floor. The boss is generous. Every night the late shift passes from the slaves’ rooms, putting a bowl with fresh water and a cube of soap on the floor. The boss wants them spotless.
Crini takes a quick look around to make sure everything is for the morning check. The bed is made, and the small device that works like an alarm clock is placed exactly thirty centimetres away from it, as instructed. Apart from these, she didn’t have anything else. Nothing truly belongs to her.
After she finished cleaning up herself, she put on the grey uniform that was provided – which fit another one like her in it – and walks out of the room. The large halls remind her how small she is compared to them.
And today seems to be busier than usual, with people running in all directions. She kept walking, saying good morning to everyone that looked her way. Some were just nodding while others were walking past her as if she was non-existent.
Crini kept moving forward, wondering what all this fuss is about. Usually, it’s she and seven other people that take the morning shift. Today feels like everyone employed in this palace would work until they pass out. When she finds the kitchen door she puts her right shoulder in it and pushes hard forward. When the door opens she freezes in place. The huge round counter in the middle of the kitchen, which routinely had only baking trays and casseroles ready to be used for the boss’s meals, now are hosting a massive cake on it, almost equal to Crini’s height.
Shit! It’s the young master’s birthday.
She dashed forward heading for the stoves. The kitchen is massive, it could easily be an apartment by itself. Crini passes the long tables and the counters containing the kitchen equipment until she finds herself in the warmest part of the entire house. The stoves.
The air here is very heavy from the steam and warm. Crini walked a few metres in it and already feels hard to breathe. She should have placed a mask or something, but she didn’t plan to stay for long in this reconstruction of hell. Steam escapes from the heated stoves, rising through the air, and creating a suffocating atmosphere. Tronstad appears through the steams, standing behind two large stoves, on top of a chair and stirring the liquids inside them with a large ladle. It is not easy to miss her. Like any other around here.
Aniveans resemble very much humans but with some differences. Although their appearance may not be very different, their eyes have an eerie shine that makes them easily traceable even at night. And they’re tall. Very tall. Tronstad is almost two metres and she’s considered normal to short height for Anivean.
“Morning Tronstad!” Crini yells at her. With all the noises around it’s difficult to hear.
“Morning Crini! You decided to show up?” Tronstad mocks. “Come on, we don’t have all day!” she points at the counter where a large plate with pieces of raw meat is.
Crini goes to the counter and lowers herself a bit, so her shoulder is at the same level as the counter. She drags slowly the plate with two hands until one side of the plate is a bit out of the counter’s edge. Then by putting her shoulder beneath the plate, she keeps dragging it outwards until it rests on her back. The plate with the meat is so heavy that Crini thinks her body would be crushed under all that weight. When Crini manages to bring the plate close to Tronstad, the latter puts aside the ladle and starts putting pieces of meat into the casseroles.
The rest of the day passed in a blink of an eye. All were so busy making the preparations for the young master’s birthday that the sun dipped down before anyone notice it. The large round table at the entrance of the kitchen – that only the cake was on before – now is surrounded by a sea of large silver plates of various shapes, filled with delicious food.
The serving team was preparing, making last-minute amendments to the trays and the order in which the food will be served. The head of servers was inspecting their pristine white shirts and trousers. Everything should be calculated and executed to perfection, otherwise, the boss will be disappointed, and everyone here knew very well of her disappointment.
Back in the stove area, the temperature started to slowly drop. It’s not so steamy anymore and breathing is effortless. Crini, Tronstad and the rest of the team were sitting down, wiping the sweat from their faces with towels wet in cool water. Their job here was done for today.
Suddenly, the kitchen doors burst open and a young girl – around the age of twelve as Crini could remember, but already reaching her height – runs in. Everyone’s eyes grow wide as they turn to her in horror, watching her as she abruptly stops before landing on the round table.
“The young boss says the serving can start.” The girl managed to say out of breath.
The speed that the serving team got into motion seemed like time goes on fast forward. In a matter of seconds, the first trays with the hors d’ oeuvres were out of the kitchen and on their way to the grand hall.
Crini got up, offering some cold water and a seat to the girl, still trying to catch her breath. The girl grabs it from Crini’s hands and takes it down in one go.
“Slowly girl, you’re going to get sick if you keep drinking it that fast!” Crini smiled at her. The girl waved her hand in the air like it was not her business and tossed the cup back to Crini to put her some more.
Generally, only Tronstad treated her well here. Well, she’s the one who took Crini from the orphanage and referred her to the boss to get her working here. And she will be forever in debt to her. The memory of her first time on this planet resurfaces in her mind’s lake. It’s been eight years since the accident that brought her to this place.
For four days Crini was wandering in these barren lands in the hope to meet some form of life. The source of water was extremely limited and food was extinct. She nearly fainted when they found her. They tossed her into an orphanage, where Crini was waiting for her death. She was too weak and too small. The possibilities of survival were against her. And then, Tronstad appeared out of the blue, standing on her room’s doorstep – like an angel – in this forsaken place.
When the kitchen was clean and everything in place – ready for tomorrow – it was time for the staff to rest. They grabbed a bite from the leftovers of the appetizers that were brought back by the serving team when their round was over and that’s it for the day.
Crini left the kitchen, taking the corridor leading to the slaves’ rooms – her steps heavy – exhausted from today’s work. The only sound in this part of the palace was her worn-out shoes on the stone floor. She could hear cheering here and there, accompanied by waves of applause. It seems the party is a success.
Walking into her room, Crini took off her uniform, dropping it on the floor before entering the shower. The privileges of working for royalty. However, the privilege does not reach up to hot water. She takes a deep breath, building courage and walks under the cold running water. The breath cuts short in her lungs at the impact. Her skin crawls as the water runs down her body. She picks up the rest of the soap cube, making sure some is left behind to wash her uniform later.
When everything is done and the uniform is hanging from the water tap to dry, Crini puts on her nightgown, made from different patches of fabric and collapsed on the bed with her tummy flat on the mattress and her head buried in the flat pillow.
“Happy birthday Crini.” She murmured.