Ash. Dry, flaky ash. The bitter sting of salt and the memory of blood.
And if that was what the first bite brought to mind, Lyndis did not want to risk her health again with the next. Disgusted and disappointed, she cast the disgraceful concoction into the compost heap. If luck was with her, it would not kill the pigs when they got their share of it in the afternoon.
She was in the kitchens, as she had been for the last several days. And, as a matter of some pride, she refused any help from the castle cooks. It didn't seem right to ask for or even accept help when she knew it would mostly be their work while she observed. And then the act would be neither special nor her own. She wanted to create things by her own skill; she wanted to impress.
When she left for the home of her birth, she would not have the luxuries supplied to her by the kitchens, and if she could not even cook with them, she did not know how she would function without them. That was a troubling thought. While she had lived alone on the plains for those few, very painful months, she had, of course, been able to prepare food well enough to sustain her, to survive. It didn't take much to stick a slab of venison into a small fire, and it took even less to dry it out in the sun. Even so, survival was the basest form of living, and she wanted the experience to be rich for her and her beloved. He deserved as much, at the very least. He was abandoning everything he knew and was familiar with to come with her.
Several times the cooks had tried to return and usurp control of the kitchens back into their own hands, though they were only successful in the early morning hours and late evenings while Lyndis was asleep. Whenever she awoke, however, she would return to her task, shooing the staff out of her new domain so she could work. She would not be deterred from her path, no matter their insistence to assist or interfere. Again and again to craft something tasteful, or at the very least, edible, by her own hands. She had allowed herself the use of some of the scribbled recipes kept in the kitchen, but, while they had usually turned out acceptable and palatable, even, many included ingredients and or spices she would not be able to easily find out on the plains.
Disheartened at her continual failures, she sat down on the counter next to her bowl of cherries, sliding it into her lap, plucking one from the top of the pile, inserting it into her mouth, and pulling it off the stem which she twirled between her fingers. She sucked on the fruit gently until it burst and the sweet fluid flooded her mouth. It lingered for a while, allowing her to concentrate on enjoying it, savoring the texture. Once she had consumed the fruit itself, she liked to chew on the pit for a time. It was hard, but had enough give that it felt good on her teeth. It also served as a relatively passive way of getting her present frustrations out. When the pit finally devolved into a mass of strings and fibers which were absolutely nasty to both feel and taste, all remnants of the sweet flavour and texture of the fruit long since dissolved, she leaned over and 'delicately' spit it out into another bowl.
She was about to insert the stem into her mouth when she heard the sound of indiscreet rummaging from the direction of the pantry where various supplies and pre-created goodies were stored. Lyndis narrowed her eyes a bit, wondering if this was some new tactic by the cooks to divide and conquer the kitchen-area and regain their territory from underneath her notice. She quietly slid off the counter, replacing the bowl from where she had picked it up before slowly tip-toeing towards the noise. When she reached the pantry, she pulled the open door wider so she might see who the invader was.
She found not a cook, but Sain whose discovery startled him and caused his head to whip around towards her. He stared at her incredulously, a roll jammed into the front of his mouth, three more cradled in his arm. His other arm was frozen in the act of reaching for a fifth, his fingers outstretched for it, though not yet grazing the flaky sides. Ducking his head a little, he hastily pulled the roll from his mouth, his bite not yet pulled off and the crust lightly goobered with a thin film of spit from the puncture holes his teeth made and back. He rolled his shoulder up, quickly wiping his mouth on it before attempting to defend the felonious behavior he had been unwittingly caught in. "Lady Lyn, I can expl-"
He wilted into a crooked, sheepish grin as she quickly brought her face dangerously close to his, fixing him with a scrutinizing gaze. He didn't know what she was looking for, but that didn't make her any less intimidating. Eventually she seemed to come to a decision and, grabbing the front of his shirt in a fist, pulled him behind her as she walked back to the center of the kitchen. "You come with me."
Sain paled a little, unsure of what she meant or was intending on doing with him. He dared to make a plea, "Lady Lyn, please don't tell Madam C-"
"I have no intention of telling her." She interrupted turning to speak to him as she stopped where she had left before, "In return, however, you help me with something of mine. You can keep your 'loot' too, if you wish." She waved her hand vaguely at his still clutched hoard of rolls.
Sain blinked a bit at her, clearly expecting something else perhaps by way of verbal beating or to be used as a sacrifice to appease the usual inhabitants of the kitchen. His expression morphed into a wide smile and then into his charming grin, "Of course, Lady Lyn, you know I would help you with anything."
"Good," she said, "we start with this." She held one of the recipes up to his face while she inserted the neglected cherry stem into her mouth, twirling it around with her tongue as she watched him.
A little puzzled, he set his rolls on the counter before taking the parchment from her. He looked the thing over as he reinserted his already partially-masicated roll back into his mouth, chewing it thoughtfully. He turned it around and carefully analyzed what she was showing him, swallowing his spongy bite of bread before addressing her. "We are going to make this?"
"Mnn," She shook her head, walking back to another counter and returning with a tray holding a previous cooking attempt and setting it next to them. She shifted the stem to the side of her mouth so she might speak unimpeded, "I already did."
He narrowed his eyes quizzically, "Then...?"
She fussed with the stem a bit before finally pulling it out, a neat knot tied in the center. She rubbed her mouth with the back of her other hand before speaking, "You're going to tell me what I did wrong." She turned away from him and let him process her words while she dropped the stem into the same bowl she had spit her pit into and rummaged through drawers, opening and closing them in search of something. Eventually, after scouring nearly half the acreage of the kitchen, she found what she was looking for and came back to Sain, holding them out to him.
They were a knife and fork. "Well?" She intoned, one hand on her hip, her weight shifted mostly to one foot, an eyebrow quirked at him.
He looked at them, but did not reach for them, instead shifting his still quizzical look to her, "Lady Lyn, perhaps someone else is better suited..."
"You already committed." Her voice brokered no debate on the subject. "Besides, you came looking for food, and now you will be getting it."
He stared at the utensils for a while, looking between them and the tray of... something. He knew no amount of flattery would excuse him from her expectations and wondered if perhaps he ought to have taken his chances with the cooks, especially when her order of him was to find out 'what she did wrong'. Sighing, he set the recipe down and took the cutlery from her, smiling good-naturedly (albeit less brilliantly than before). "I am to be poison-checker, then?"
Her lips twisted into a grin, "Not quite, but if it makes you feel more important you can think of it that way if you wish."
Sain nodded before turning to the task before him. He hovered the fork over the dish hesitantly, moving it around, uncertain of where to start. Before he had even made a dent however, Lyndis tapped his arm, handing him a large mug of water and dropping a stool behind him. "You might want these." She pulled up her own stool and her bowl of cherries, settling down to observe him and his to-be-forthcoming critiques (and reactions).
He sat gratefully on the stool, though even more uneasy than before, if that was at all possible. He had to suck it up, though, 'take it like a man', as he'd often told his 'boon companion' Kent when he had been faced with undesirable situations. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lyndis take a cherry into her mouth, watching him expectantly. Taking a deep breath and gripping the fork determinedly, he stabbed a section of the preparation and sawed it off, quickly stuffing it into his mouth before he could think to change his mind.
It was not.... bad, actually. His stomach did not writhe like a basket of snakes as he had expected to, as she seemed to think it might. He rolled the chunk around in his mouth a bit before realizing it tasted....odd. He wasn't sure how to describe it. He grabbed the recipe and looked it over as he finished chewing the morsel and swallowed it. He coughed in his fist, his throat a little uncertain as to whether it wished to accept the thing as 'edible', and took a sip from his mug of water to help it down before he turned to her. "Ah, it is..."
Before he could finish his sentence, however, Lyndis spat her pit into the second bowl, and spoke, fixing him with a narrow glare, "I want the truth, now, Sain. I don't care if I am your leige or just a lady, if you start spouting any of your casual flattery I will know it for the bold-faced lie it is." She inserted the stem in her mouth and awaited his answer, allowing him time to adjust it if he needed.
He looked back to the recipe before speaking again, "Did you accidentally mix spices, perhaps? I'm not tasting the-" he stopped, distracted as Lyndis pulled another knotted stem from her mouth and twirled it between her fingers. He couldn't help but grin at her, his train of thought completely lost.
She quirked an eyebrow at him, "What?"
He propped his chin on his palm and his elbow on the counter, "You must be incredible."
His answer seemed to perplex her, "Incredible? At what? What do you mean?"
His grin split wide, as if he were trying very poorly to conceal a secret.
"Out with it, Sain."
He chuckled to himself a bit,"In Lycia... there is a rumor or tale that speaks of cherries and their relation to one's skill at kissing. To be able to tie the stem in a knot inside one's mouth, " he pointed to his own for emphasis, "belies great skill in giving Sacaen Kisses."
"Sacaen...Kisses? What do you mean? I have not heard of such a thing."
Sain pondered for a moment, before realizing his error, leaning close he clarified the term for her, whispering it in her ear, as it were scandalous to speak aloud.
"Oh!" she intoned, before lapsing into thought. She rolled her bottom lip over her teeth, biting lightly, "well that explains something."
It was her turn to smile, "Back home, with the rest of the Lorca, there was a festival we would actually take efforts to buy cherries for. I never understood it then, but, the other, older Lorca girls would always try to tie their stems into knots. They would giggle and applaud at each other's successes and look over their shoulders as if they might be being watched by someone. I suppose I know why, now. "
She sighed a bit, thinking fondly of her memories, before readdressing the situation Sain had sidetracked her from (as was probably his intention). She tapped the plate, "Your opinion, if you will. No embellishments, please."
Ah, yes, of course...
It was many hours before Sain was released from the kitchen. When he finally stumbled out, he was rather full, such that he felt his stomach threatened to wage a projectile war on his esophagus, something he rather hoped to avoid. The cuisine had greatly improved during his stay, but he found that the varied textures and flavours conflicted within in a somewhat unpleasant matter.
As he was trying (vainly) to distract himself from the guttural feeling, he bumped, rather ungracefully, into a good friend of his. The action was somewhat painful as the subject was wearing his customary armour while Sain was not; he was not perturbed in the least, however. "Kent! My boon companion!"
Kent affixed him him with a scrutinizing look, "And where have you been all day? Shirking your duties, no doubt."
"Ah, that you think so poorly of me wounds my soul, dear friend."
Kent was not moved, "Care to elaborate as to otherwise, then?"
"I have been in the gracious presence of our beauteous Lady Lyndis, at her request, of course. She was in need of my expertise."
"And what 'expertise' might this be that she would invite you to the kitchens, especially when she has not requested a thing any of these days prior?"
Sain's lips quivered with a grin that threatened to split his face, "Perhaps you ought to ask her yourself, hmm?" He coughed into a fist as his stomach decided to give an unseemly lurch.
Kent quirked an eyebrow, "Is that so?"
Sain nodded, "Oh yes. In fact, I think she was hoping you might come." He stopped for a moment, processing something, "Why are you down this hall anyway? I wouldn't expect you to actually be here before me without...." he pondered a moment, "were you being sent there already?"
Kent adjusted his weight on his feet, " I was.... approached, yes, by parties who were both concerned by her disregard for her ongoing lessons and the fact that the kitchens are required to prepare for a particular event this evening. They hoped I might persuade her to vacate, at least for a period of time."
Sain looked him up and down, "And you chose to come in full armour? It is not as if she will charge you with a cleaver in hand, my friend."
Kent rolled his eyes, shouldering past his friend, "If you will excuse me."
As Sain watched his friend walk down the hall, he couldn't help but call out, "I hope you like cherries!" He received no response.
Kent trotted carefully down the half-staircase into the kitchen, looking around him for his lady. The room was flooded with the various aromas of cooking, both pleasing and decidedly unusual. He was distracted from his observation, however, by Lyndis as she wrapped her arms around his neck, rising up on her toes to give him a quick kiss without preface. He was reminded of Sain's parting comment as he thought he tasted a bit of the sweet fruit on her lips.
"You came quickly," she remarked with a warm smile.
He cleared his throat, "I was sent here, milady, actually. There are some who hoped you might be encouraged to come out for a time."
"Oh?" She seemed a little distracted, looking down at something in one of her hands which she had withdrawn from his neck.
"Yes, I.... Lady Lyndis?"
He looked down at the tiny object himself, curious as to why it held her attention so. "What is that?"
She smiled at him playfully, "This?" She raised the object up between their faces, "Can you tell what it is now?"
Tilting his head to see it better, his brow furrowed in confusion, "It is... a cherry stem, milady."
"Mmm, I have one here for you too." She procured a second, and waiting until he had taken it from her hand to continue, "Do you know what it means?" She slipped hers into her mouth, twirling the smooth, tasteless fiber around with her tongue.
He simply shook his head ever so slightly, watching her with a degree of confusion.
When she finally removed the knotted stem, she held it up for him to see, "How about now?"
He stared at it for a while, the idea not clicking into his head. He recalled again what Sain had said, considering his words more carefully. When that failed, he reflected on what Lyndis had done with the stem.
Seeing his confusion, Lyndis lifted herself up towards him again, kissing his cheek. She brought her face close, brushing her nose over his and speaking in a mischievous whisper, "I could help you with yours, if you want."
Realization hit him harder than a well-aimed axe-handle to his head, his blood chilling with it. His face did not seem to know whether to pale or blossom into color and somehow became an interesting mixture of both. His breathing, motion, and just about any exercise of his muscles, save his heart, ceased, his eyes dilating with the shock, his own stem falling from his fingers and to the floor.
Lyndis could not help but giggle at the man's reaction, try as she might to take pity on him and conceal such a display. She gently brushed his bangs from his forehead, leaning up to give him a kiss there before lightly pulling him down into a hug (a gesture somewhat hampered by his tall bevor). When she finally released him, he seemed to have regained some of his normal functions, allowing him to blink a couple times. She threaded her hand into his and squeezed it, still unable to keep herself from at least grinning. "I suppose I can be convinced to leave for a while."
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out. Instead, he opted to nod, lightly squeezing her hand back before leading her back to the short staircase.
She playfully leaned into her knight after they had ascended up to the hallway and begun their walk down it. Oh, he was so much fun to tease.
I feel dreadfully silly. But there it is. x3 It was fun to write too, I hope it's not too terrible.
All five Senses. DONE. HOORAY. And In. Time.
Twas a fun challege.