Rose’s stomach growled. She was hungry but wouldn’t be getting anything to eat unless she did some work first. She peeked in the kitchen from the doorway. The smells of roasting meats, simmering stews and baking pies nearly knocked her off of her feet. She walked away from the kitchen before she could no longer bring herself to leave, her mouth watering to the point of drooling.
The herb garden to the right of the kitchen was in terrible shape. Weeds choked most of the rows and squares of herb plantings. The herbs themselves, what few she could see, were brown and shriveled from lack of water and care.
A short fence surrounded the plot, more just a row of sticks poking up from the ground than an actual fence. Cross bars of branches lay on the ground where they had fallen from their posts, or had been knocked down by wind or beast, human or animal. A gate of sorts hung from its post by one leather thong nearly ripped through.
Rose decided the fence and gate could wait for their repairs. There wasn’t much in the garden for anyone to eat or steal. The way it currently looked she doubted anyone could tell the difference between what was edible and what was just greenery growing with abandon.
Rose hiked up her skirts and tucked them in the cloth belt around her waist. She would need to get down on her hands and knees to pull weeds and see if any useful plants remained. She began in the back right corner from the gate.
Rose cleared out leaves that had fallen into the gullies that made aisles around the square in this corner. She kept the dead leaves together in a pile. She would use them to mix in the dirt and feed the plants. She pulled one fistful after another of hawkweed and spotted spurge from the square mound of dirt before she could see that there were rosemary plants still growing healthily. She broke off several stems of the herb to take to the cook. Trimming the plants would help them grow.
She stood and looked at her work. The sun had traveled a full mark in the sky. At this rate, she would need a fortnight to weed the entire garden. She hoped Cook wouldn’t need fourteen moons to see Rose’s progress.
Each separate plant section was the same size as the rosemary plot: three lengths of the current Emperor’s boot. The entire garden was five squares wide by eight squares long. Each square was separated by gully paths half a foot wide with one path going around the outside of the squares just inside the fence that was a foot wide.
“Enough rest,” Rose said to herself, “if you plan on eating this day.”
She worked across the back row of squares in the garden. She found another rosemary square in the other corner plot. The next two squares in contained hyssop and the center square held lavender. Rose was able to harvest some of each of these. She had stalks of all three plants along with their flowers laid out in neat piles. By the time she had the back row done, the sun slanted midway in the sky to sunset.
Rose stood, brushing dirt from her hands and knees. She was hot and sweating. She looked around for somewhere to wash herself before going to Cook to present her harvest and hopefully receive something to eat. She was faint with hunger. She didn’t see any well or trough near by.
The boy Cook had given the goose to earlier in the morning to pluck came running past the garden.
“You, boy,” shouted Rose.
The boy stopped and turned to look at her. He pointed at his chest and looked at her questioningly.
Rose waved her hand at him, gesturing for him to come closer. He ran to her and slid in the dirt, pushing up a puff of dust.
“Do you always run everywhere?”
The boy grinned and shrugged a shoulder.
“Huard, isn’t it?”
“Where is the water for washing?”
Huard shrugged and began turning away from Rose.
“Wait,” said Rose, “where is the well?”
Huard waved for Rose to follow him and he took off running across the front of the kitchen.
Rose left the garden and followed as quickly as she could. Huard took her past the cows and to the side of what seemed to be a barn. There she found the well and a stone trough filled with water. Huard had waited for her to come around the corner. When he saw her, he began to run back in the direction of the kitchen.
“Wait,” Rose said.
Huard turned to face her but kept running backwards, smiling at her.
“Can you get me a cloth to carry the herbs in?”
Huard turned around again and took off at full speed.
“Crazy boy.” Rose shook her head. She went to the water trough and washed. She splashed her face and wiped it dry with the hem of her skirt, then smoothed down her dress. She leaned against the edge of the water trough. She would need to eat soon. The world spun in front of her eyes and her head contracted in and expanded out again. She took a deep breath and headed back to the garden to get her herbs.
When she reached the broken gate, she found a piece of fabric handing over a upright branch. Huard had now helped her twice. She would need to do something for him in return.
Rose gathered the rosemary, hyssop and lavender and went to find Cook. She entered the kitchen and was stopped by a wave of intense heat. Three fireplaces, each with their own pot being stirred by a kitchen maid, flanked the left wall. An oven fourteen feet in diameter occupied the back corner along the same wall. Two big men rearranged a sizzling pig and loaves of bread baked on a shelf above the porcine roast. In the scullion, a separate room on the right, maids washed utensils, pots and platters in stone sinks. Large wooden tables occupied the center of the kitchen, where maids rolled out pastry dough, or cut meat or peeled vegetables. The heat and noise was like a living being. Despite the chaos, Cook was easy to find. She stood at the back most table screaming at everyone else. Rose moved through the people to Cook’s side.
“Mind your pot, Bea,” shouted Cook. “If yea let the stew burn, yea ain’t gettin’ your dinner.”
A black haired, thin woman used an iron hook to move her pot away from the flames. She looked over her shoulder at Cook, whose attention moved on to one of the pastry maids.
“Yea dough is too thick, Marg,” yelled Cook. “I have told yea many a time.”
Rose wasn’t sure which woman was Marg, but all of the pastry girls bent closer to their work. Cook did not spare Rose a word or a look as Cook scanned her battlefield for slackers, traitors and deserters.
“I beg your pardon, Cook,” Rose said.
Cook either did not hear her or she ignored her. Rose could not tell which.
Rose laid her bundle on the table in front of Cook and opened it. The fragrances rose in the warm air of the kitchen. Cook looked down. She touched each herb. She rubbed a piece of rosemary between two fingers and brought them to her nose. Rose thought she saw a small smile on the woman’s face but it was gone too quickly to be sure.
“Bea,” yelled Cook. Everyone in the kitchen jumped.
“Put this rosemary in your stew,” bellowed Cook. “His Lordship will be well pleased with his dinner.”
Bea hurried over and took the sprigs Cook handed her.
Cook turned to speak to Rose, but Rose lay on the kitchen floor.