After four hours of walking, and listening to the king tell us the history of the palace, show us his childhood hiding places, and spending almost an hour at the top of the tower looking out at the view, he was called away to a meeting.
Connie and I found our way to the kitchen and when the smell of the food hit my nose, I realized I was starving.
The cooks greeted us and we both took a seat at one of the long counters.
“Hey Con, are you hungry?” I asked her in a whisper. She nodded to me with a smile then turned to the cooks, “Could we get something to eat please?” she asked.
One of the older men came to us, his white hair tied into a bun on the top of his head and his wrinkled hands covered in white powder, “Of course my lady. What would you like?”
“Whatever smells so good,” I said and took in a long sniff.
The cook shifted in his place, “That is not for you my lady.”
“Oh, ok. Sorry.” I said and looked away.
“Forgive me, I meant no disrespect, I only mean that is the staff soup. It is not fit for a lady.”
I frowned, “Why not?” The old man looked behind him at his colleagues, “It’s called common soup. It is not good enough for you.”
I frowned, “Don’t be silly. We are normal people, just like you. Can we try some, please?” I asked and looked at Connie. She nodded with a smile, “Yes, please. It smells delicious.”
He nodded, “Very well. Would you like some bread with it?”
“Yes please.” we both said in unison and laughed.
The old cook went to the back of the room and pulled out two white and gold bowls, placed them on a silver tray, while the others polished spoons and got the bread ready.
He brought over two trays and placed them down in front of us. I took a long sniff of the steam as it rose from my bowl and smiled.
I picked up my spoon and mixed the thick dark broth, with little chunks of meat and some kind of vegetable in it.
When I took a slow bite, I closed my eyes and moaned.
This is so good.
Connie did the same and as we ate, I looked up and saw all four of the cooks standing watching us.
I swallowed down my mouthful, “Um, Con.” I said and when she looked at me I motioned with my head to the cooks.
She looked up, “Oh,” she said and put her spoon down, “Is everything ok?”
The old man came forward, “Yes, my lady. We have never had anyone eat in the kitchen with us, or anyone who is of higher standing eat Common soup. Not anyone that was not staff.”
“Well,” Con said as she turned back to the soup, “We are not like everyone else. And by the way, this soup is delicious.
“Thank you, my lady,” he said with a nod and turned back to the others. He waved his hands at them and they returned to work.
He came to the counter we ate at and went back to work on peeling some kind of weird looking red vegetable.
I placed my spoon down and grabbed a piece of bread, “So how long have you worked here?” I asked the cook.
“Oh dear,” he said looking up from his knife, “Almost sixty-five years.”
“Wow,” I breathed out, “That is a long time.”
“Yes. I have cooked for three kings so far. I hope to cook for one more before my time runs out.”
“Three kings?” Connie asked, “So you started working here when Raylon and Zasrus’s grandfather was still king.”
“Yes, my lady. I was fifteen years old when the king gave me a place in this kitchen. I watched his son grow up, get married and have children. I watch King Zasrus grow to the man he is today.”
“That is a long time,” I said as I dipped my bread into my soup, “Are you planning to retire?”
“No, my lady, I could never do that. My dream is to serve one more king. When the young prince takes the throne, I will have been the only member of staff to serve four kings in all of history.”
“That is quite the record,” I said and took a bite.
“It is a dream, but one I fear I will not see come to pass. I can feel my bones are old now. It is harder to do the tasks with each passing day.”
“You must really like this job,” I said and smiled at him, “You sure are very good at it.”
“Thank you, my lady. I do love this work. But I love my king more. It is because of him that I have stayed so long.” “The king?” I asked, my interest suddenly peeked.
“Yes,” The old man said and returned to the vegetables, “I watched him and the prince grow from little boys that would steal food in the middle of the night, to the most loved king and prince in a long time. He changed our lives here when he enforced a law saying that all palace staff will be paid double what we used to. He modernized the kitchen with all new and state of the art equipment making our work easier, and he never demands anything. He is always happy with whatever food we serve him. He has never complained or had harsh words for us. A true pleasure to serve.”
Huh. So a really nice guy then.
“So you say the king and the prince used to get up to no good when they were younger?” Connie asked as she finished off her bowl.
The man laughed, “Oh yes, my lady. All the time. Those two were always getting into trouble. Did they tell you about when they burnt half the garden down?”
I laughed, “What?”
“Oh yes. The king wanted to learn to shoot, so Prince Raylon took him out to the garden one night to practice. They started fighting over something silly, and the weapon fired into the trees, setting them alight. I was sure the king would beat them blue for it, but he simply gave them a stern talking to and made them replant everything. All the trees, from just out here,” He said pointing to a door that stood open to the side, “all the way to the lake are trees the king and the Prince had to plant.”
Typical brotherly love.
“I bet you have tons of stories about them, don’t you?” Connie asked.
The old man smiled, “I will tell you one every time you eat with me here, is that fair?”
We both smiled, “deal.”