Rose stood in the kitchen yard. The sun peeked between buildings. People ran in and out of the kitchen carrying things that were needed for the mid-morning meal. Chickens scurried between the feet of the people. Two cows tied to a post in the middle of a grassy patch to the right of the kitchen grazed in peace. Food waste, mostly fruit and vegetable skins, littered the ground. A neglected garden tucked against the curtain wall marked the back of the bailey.
A large woman with a knife in one hand and a half plucked goose in the other, blocked the kitchen doorway. Her dark hair, covered by a linen cap tied under her ample chins, poked out in all directions. She wore an unbleached woolen dress covered by a sleeveless overdress that was stained by various food juices. She vibrated with tension. She looked beyond Rose, never making eye contact. She searched the yard with purpose.
“Huard!” The woman bellowed out the name like a horn. “Huard! Get ye lazy bones here and finish this bird.” She waved the half plucked bird in the air to emphasize her irritation.
A young boy rounded the corner from the right at a run. He skidded on the peelings on the ground and bumped into Rose, knocking her down. He ignored her and turned to the woman.
The woman reached out with the goose, using it to clout the boy in the head.
“You laze about,” she said, “finish this job proper and well, or ye’ll get no bread this morn.” She thrust the dead bird into Huard’s hands.
“And don’t you lose one feather. His Lordship needs a new mattress.”
The boy ran off, hopping over Rose’s legs. Once Huard was out of her sight, the woman took a moment to look around. She spotted Rose rising from the ground. She planted both fists on her hips, the knife she held coming dangerously close to slicing her big belly.
“No begging before the morning meal,” she said. She stood guard over the kitchen entrance, glaring at Rose as Rose brushed lettuce leaves off of her skirt.
Rose gathered her courage. She took a deep breath and looked the woman in the eyes.
“I am not a beggar,” said Rose, “I am here for work. I wish to speak to the cook.”
“That be me,” said Cook, “and I have enough workers.”
Rose looked around the yard.
“I can tend the chickens.”
“The chickens tend themselves.”
“I can tend the cows.”
“The milkmaids tend the cows.”
Cook backed her bulk into the kitchen, while Rose thought in desperation of some work the tough woman would consider of value to her. Rose’s glance fell upon the garden with its brown, whithered plants.
“I can tend the garden,” said Rose. “I can grow and harvest herbs and brew tinctures and tonics.”
Cook stopped moving. She looked more closely at Rose.
“Can you make teas and salves?”
“The garden will need much work,” said Rose, “but once the plants have come back, I can begin stocking your pantry.”
Servants stood behind the cook waiting to exit the kitchen and other servants stood behind Rose waiting to enter the kitchen. They looked between Cook and Rose.
“Ye can stay for the span of a moon’s cycle as a test.” Cook turned back into the kitchen. She brandished her knife at the servants behind her.
“Get to work, ye worthless folk.”
“I haven’t eaten in three days,” said Rose to Cook’s retreating back. “Can I have a crust of bread?”
“Ye’ll eat after you work.” Cook threw her words over her shoulder as she left Rose to her own devices.