My name is Tam. I happen to be a queen, but I was not always one. My life has been a maze that is impossible to navigate. When I was a baby, I was abandoned by my mother in the front of the castle. I was found by the cook, and she raised me as her own. I have grown up cooking, washing platters, and chasing the resident rats from the pantry with a broom. My story has been one where being a rebel can result in death. Just as I was learning this, I became one myself. This is my story. Growing up around royalty was definitely what I had wanted, but, of course, it never happened. When I was a baby, my mother was thought to be a witch, so she left me on the drawbridge of the castle in hopes that someone might find me and I might live a better life. The castle’s cook found me eventually and took me in. She was my mother figure I had known my entire life. I occasionally saw royalty, but it was very rare. I usually just brought tea and cakes to the king and queen’s personal servants. Because I was unaccustomed to the royal life, I was in for a big surprise when I turned fifteen.
Washing dishes. Again. The king’s banquet to celebrate his son’s fourteenth birthday was just about as big as they come. It also meant a lot of dishes. I was, that morning, in fact, scrubbing away at an especially stubborn stain on one of the soup pots, when Mother burst into the kitchen. She said nothing more than to ‘keep scrubbing that pot, and don’t mind me.’ So, of course, I kept scrubbing the pot. Mother bustled around in the pantry for a little while, before emerging with a sack of flour, I assumed, and with that, she walked out the door. As soon as the door was shut, I listened until I didn’t hear any more footsteps in the hall. I quietly crept out, keeping my wits about me, I crept around corners, up and down stairs, following the sound of Mother’s footsteps until I heard her knock three times on a door. I had never been down this hall before. I was told it was off limits. She spoke briefly to someone on the other side of the door, and then I heard the door shut behind Mother as she went into the room. I was about to bolt back to the kitchen before I was discovered, but before I could turn around, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I wheeled around, very surprised to see Cassi, the gardener, standing behind me. Shebeckoned me to follow her. We took smaller and smaller passageways further and further into the West Wing. The so-called Forbidden Wing. We eventually came to a dead end passageway. There, we had to wait for a guard to pass by before we could continue. Cassi knelt and, very carefully, as to not make any noise to give us away, slid a dark grey stone back into the wall. There was a slow, yet quiet, grinding noise, and I saw a door appear. Where I thought it had been solid stone, there was actually a cleverly painted panel of wood. Cassi and I crept into the space behind the panel, and she pushed it back into place. I heard a faint clicking as the stone slid back into place.
We crept through a narrow stone passage, finally reaching an iron grate. I was later informed that it was the air vent for the store room. As we listened, we heard a lot of one sided discussion. Mother tried to interject as often as she could, but she was hardly able to sneak in a word before the other person - a man - spoke again. He was mad at her for ‘“... bringing thewrong flour...”’ and “‘... forgetting the sugar and salt...”’ So as you can imagine, this conversation lasted a very long time. Cassi and I snuck back out of the passage and hurried back to the kitchen. There, I took a recipe card that was left blank and wrote down important snippets of the conversation. Cassi was able to hear so many people on a daily basis, that she had immediately identified the man in the room with whom Mother was talking with as the Baron Philip. The Baron, who had been scheduled to stay for only a week, ended up staying for a much longer due to unsafe traveling conditions. Mother had been complaining about the Baron and his “‘ Swine like behavior”’ and this, that, or the other about the way that he eats and leaves a mess where ever he eats something. Both Mother and I had to have spent hours in the Dining Hall where the Baron dined with the King and Queen, cleaning up after supper was over.
Just a week after overhearing the conversation between the Baron and Mother, I was shooing the resident rats out of the pantry again, when Mother, whom I saw out of the corner of my eye, stuffed her apron pockets full of small tins of yeast. I immediately knew where she was going: to the Baron’s room, and as soon as she had left and I didn’t hear any footsteps in the hall, I raced outside to the gardens to find Cassi. We went and listened in on Mother and the Baron again; this time, Cassi had brought a charcoal pencil and some parchment that she had found in the Library. We took better notes, which I hid with the recipe card in the small box that the King’s son had made for Mother as a gift, but Mother was gone the day that he came down to give it toher, and I took it as mine instead. I had to make it look old and worn, as to fit in with my story that I had found it, abandoned, on the road leading to the town of Greenlark. Mother bought my story, and I had the royal blacksmith, Matthew, make me a lock and a key for the little box.
The next year, I had grown so accustomed to Mother’s visits with the Baron, that I was quite appalled when the Baron had to leave a week before my fifteenth birthday. I had thought for sure that he would have stayed until summer, when it was the optimal time to travel, but he said that he had some very urgent business to attend to in Russia. Of course, the Baron was of Russian descent, we all knew that, but we were all very surprised to hear that he was going to travel all the way from England to Russia, in the middle of winter, and be there within the next week. By horse, it would take twelve days, maybe more, and by foot, the journey was impossible. Now that the Baron was out of the castle, Mother didn’t have any reason to sneak to his room anymore, but she still took many items from our pantry and went to the Baron’s room. The Baron, who visited England often, had his own room in the castle. Mother had been training me to take over the kitchen for many months now, so this helped me when the spring thaw caused many changes.
It all started in early May. I was out in the gardens collecting fresh Basil and Thyme, when I heard the side door that leads to the kitchen bang open. I turned around and almost knocked poor Anette off of her feet. Anette was the new kitchen servant. Mother was growing older, and she needed more help getting around. Anette should have been inside helping Mother with the pork roast for tonight’s dinner, but when I heard why she was outside, I immediately forgot about anything that had happened before then. Anette came bearing news that Mother had collapsed to the floor in the pantry suddenly, and had been taken to the infirmary. The doctors said that Mother had had a heart attack, and she might not be with us much longer. The following evening, Mother died. There was no funeral, for cooks were servants, the lowliest. We simply dug a hole and laid Mother in it. I was now in charge of cooking all of the meals for the royal family. I suddenlyrealized how tired and stressed Mother had been. Anette was a very helpful girl, with her long, spider-like fingers, she could reach into cracks and crevices that I could no longer reach. She, as I soon found out, was a very good rat catcher. She would walk so silently, it scared me sometimes. She was able to catch the rats with her bare hands and deposit them outside. A week after Anette started, I didn’t see another rat anywhere. Being fifteen, I could take Anette in as my daughter. I chose that it would be best to take her in, for she had no family. This year was to be full of surprises, and they were just beginning.
It was fall. The leaves started to change and fall to the ground. The King would be holding a special feast to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve. I had a lot to do. One day, I was making whipped topping for the pies, when the Prince stumbled into the kitchen. It was not uncommon to see him down here. He loved to be around the plants that we kept by the small window, and the kitchen was one of the warmest places in the Castle. Today, he came running down the staircase, much faster than I had ever seen him run. He said that he had come down to warn me and Anette. He proclaimed that Gastoph, a king whom lived in a castle six days away, and whom was known for being a wicked tyrant, was coming for the All Hallow’s Eve supper. I didn’t really see why this was such a bad thing, until the prince rolled down one of his stockings and showed Anette and me a long, jagged scar that ran from his knee, almost to his ankle. He explained that Gastoph had hated him the moment he was born, and, unbeknownst to the king and queen, he had made a hurried cut with his dagger on the prince’s leg when he was just five years old. When the king and queen had found out, they had put a bounty on Gastoph’s head. The royal family had hated him ever since. The prince just didn’t see why Gastoph had to come back after ten years of being banished.Two weeks after the prince had come to the kitchen to complain about Gastoph, it was All Hallow’s Eve. The pies had been made, the pigs had been roasted, the vegetables had been simmered. An hour before the supper, the king came down the staircase, wearing a look of disgust on his face as his robes dragged on the dirt floor. He had simply come down to check to make sure that all of the food was in order. After he had seen to it that all of the food was just as he had wanted, he left abruptly. When it came time to take the food to the dining room, Anette and I carried the food to the carts that would be pushed by the personal servants the rest of the way. As I was walking back to the kitchen, I heard an unfamiliar pair of footsteps behind me. Anette was already back in the kitchen, so I had no idea of whom could be following me right now. I whipped around after forty more paces down the corridor. I was shocked at whom I found standing in the hall ten paces behind me. It was the prince. Or I thought it was the prince. He was wearing a brown tunic and black pants, and he looked like he had just come out of a compost pile. He was covered in dirt. He probably didn’t know what to say, so I ended up doing the talking. “What are you doing down here dressed like that?” I asked of him, “Why are you not upstairs, feasting on the roasted pig?” He then told me that he was going to run away, for he had never particularly liked living a life full of riches. He wanted to go and explore the world. He had come down to the kitchen to get a meager amount of rations so that he would not die of hunger. I gave him the food, and next, he did something very unexpected. He asked me if I could ride a horse.
I had been riding once, just to get to Greenlark. I was fairly good at riding, so of course, I said yes. He then had me write Anette a note saying that I had gone to the town of Moonhaven to get some more sugar and salt. The prince then dragged me out of the side door to the gardens. He lead me to the stables, and helped me mount one of the horses. I was constantly wondering now, Why is he taking me out of the castle? Why did he choose me? Where are we going? By now, I was protesting so loudly, he had to warn me to be quiet if I ever wanted to get away fromthis place. I hushed up after that. The prince mounted a horse, and we rode to the gates. There he ordered the guards to let us go outside of the castle. They obliged, for they thought that he was another cook and we were going to Moonhaven. This lie had gotten us so far, I was quite surprised. When we got outside of the castle’s barracks, it was like a heaven that I never thought I would live to see. The air here was clean, and the sky was so blue, it was blinding. We urged our horses into a gallop, and sped through the countryside. As it started to turn to dusk, we stopped near a stream to set up our camp. The horses were tied up near the stream so they could get water. The prince made a fire and a small tent out of canvas that he had brought with him. I caught some fish from the stream and cooked them over the fire for our dinner. As we were eating, the prince told me about his life in the castle. About the lavishness that some of us could only imagine. After a long, drawn out silence, he asked me what my name was. I told him that my name was Tam. He then proceeded to tell me that his name was Erik, and that he was so happy to be free of the castle’s prim and proper. He told me that he had pretended to not feel well so that he could get away from the supper. He had collected saddlebags from the calvaries’ storage house. He had also managed to grab a dagger and a knife from the armory. I had brought my knowledge of cooking food, a satchel of fresh fruit, and the knife that always hung above the fire. Erik began to share with me some of the survival tips he had learned from talking to the head of the knights, Randolph. While he was talking I kept thinking, How could a stuck-up royal be so nice? He has to be pretending just to get me to do something. What could he want from me? I don’t have anything to give him, and if we are just going to go back to the castle, why is he trying so hard? He is surely engaged to a duchess or princess. Erik taught me how to tie the sturdiest knots and how to catch a fish with a stick. The next day while we were riding, we were held up by strangers. They were dressed like commoners, but they acted like ruffians. They shot Erik’s horse, and attempted to steal the saddle bags. Erik was finished with them soon enough, and I was suddenly very happy that he had brought a knife. We loaded all of the salvageable items onto my horse and took off again.
We had traveled three nights by the time we actually reached Moonhaven. There, we slept in a small hut, and we traded my horse out and got Erik a new one. I went to the market early in the morning to pick up more rations for us. That afternoon, we set out again. We crossed almost half of the plain that stretched from Moonhaven to Bluegrass, when we were ambushed by bandits in masks. They held gleaming swords and spears, polished bronze shields with a design that I had never seen before, and they were all knee high to a grasshopper. They demanded that we give up our gold and silver along with all of our jewels. At first, all Erik and I could do was laugh, for these, it seemed, children were demanding that we turn over riches. Iwas thinking to myself about, How could these boys who are playing around ask for riches? They must be really desperate. I don’t know what to do. Should we ride away? Why did I even agree to go with Erik? Seeing how we were laughing, the bandits then proceeded to hold us at sword and spear point until we gave up the gold. We, of course, had none, so they resorted to taking all of our rations, save for a select assortment of onions and greens. I had left the castle only twice in my life, and that was to go to Greenlark to get flour. This trip was so long, that when we finally arrived in Bluegrass, I was asleep on the straw before Erik even lit a lamp. The next morning, we were both so famished, that we were tempted to eat the mules’ grain and hay. We stayed in the little barn for two nights before we needed to leave for Kleinstadt. Kleinstadt was a small town built by German settlers in the former years. The town had since been raided and burned when Vikings attacked. The road to Kleinstadt was frequently used for trade and transportation between the two towns. There, we stayed one night in a farmer’s hut. From Kleinstadt, we had a five day trip to Bhaile. Bhaile was located right on the ocean. This was our final destination. We had another run-in with a different murder of crows, when we were attacked just outside of Kleinstadt. We were lucky enough to be able to lead the bandits into the town square, and there, they finally gave up trying to steal from us, seeing how they were clearly outnumbered.
Upon arriving in Bhaile, we noticed many things. The first was that this town was not exactly teeming with life. The shutters on all of the windows were drawn shut, and the doors were locked. The only signs of life were the horses that were tethered outside the stables, andthe occasional chicken coop. We arrived at the small boarding house, or at least that’s what we assumed it was. All of the signs here were in a strange language, and it was called Taigh-loidsidh. Erik had been taught Scottish Gaelic as a child, so we had a relatively good idea of where we were. The housewife who ran the Taigh-loidsidh was happy to let us stay as long as we had to. Her name, she said, was Maria. Maria told us that when the king’s wife had died, the town of Bhaile had collapsed into a state of mourning. She politely declined any payment. The next week, we had obtained possession of a small hut that was abandoned, for the widow whom had lived there had died just weeks prior to our arrival. Three weeks later, the King of Bhaile had heard that there was a prince - Erik - in the town. He had us summoned to his palace. Erik and I were happy to oblige.
When we arrived in the Throne Room, we apologized for our appearance, since we had just traveled for almost a month. I took note of the designs that seemed so familiar: a lance crossing a spear in front of a shield that was divided into quarters. Each quarter held an animal design. There was a hawk, a serpent, an elk, and a bear. The king, Edgar, gave us proper clothes, and invited us to dinner. He also explained about the shield, as he had seen me looking at it earlier. The animals were the symbols of the noble houses. There was the House of the Hawk: they ruled the northern part of the kingdom, the House of the Serpent: they ruled the southern half of the kingdom located on the sea, the House of the Elk: they ruled the easternmost part of the kingdom where it was very wooded, and the King’s house, the House of the Bear: who ruled over the western part of the kingdom. His three brothers ruled the other houses. At dinner, we discussed our journey over roasted pig. Erik and I also shared that we had been ambushed by bandits on the plain. I told him that they carried the royal emblem on their shields. The king said that he would look into it right away. King Edgar told us that because his wife had long since passed, he had no heir to the throne, and because Erik and I had left our kingdom, the king thought that Erik would be the perfect king. He had thought that I was Erik’s wife, and seeing that I was not, he told us that if we wished to be wed, he would be happy to hold the wedding at his castle. Erik and I had been thinking about getting married after falling in love back in Greenlark.
Erik and I were wed the next month. The whole kingdom was invited, and it was chaos. There were servants running everywhere, there were beggars latched onto the gates, pleading to be let in, there were Serfs and Lords and Ladies all in the same room. The court Jester was flirting openly with an archer. Knights stood all around the room at attention. At least they were at attention until a duchess pulled each of them onto the dance floor to dance. The King was so happy, many people came up to Erik and me to congratulate us and to thank us for bringing their king back. We both took the Kirkbarr surname, and Erik was named king a year later. I became his queen, and we never looked back. The kingdom was very happy to have a new queen, although we always mourned the loss of the former. Erik and I grew up and had a very beautiful son named Alban. He later became king after Erik died in battle. I was queen until Alban married Isla, a wealthy duke’s daughter from Bhaile. My life has been crazy. I have run from a life that I didn’t like, and married a prince. I brought hope to a grief stricken kingdom, and to top it off, I became a queen and had a son. I did finally find out why Mother had taken all of the baking supplies. She was helping the Baron steal from the castle. I was told that it was a good thing that she had died. I was not like her. I didn’t have to die. In other words, I finally got the life that I dreamed was impossible to have. It took a lot of determination and hard work, but I went from rags to riches, as they say.