Thin pillow underneath my head was soaked. I hadn’t notice that I was sweating heavily from the nightmare. Something sharp poked my ribs, the sharpen wood. Some simple weapon that I made for myself, in case another bad man decided to kill my father’s lineage once again. Not more than one moon passed by, I was more than I am now. In every way possible. More woman than object, I thought. The thought came as often as the rumbling rain that washes over this forsaken city, London. Not more than a year ago, a man was just a man, no more than what he is now. That is what I saw of him and his lavish demeanor.
A distant call, more of a scowl, push me off my pillow. Head housemaid roared instructions to the boys and girls, servants of the king’s household, to pace up their movement. A notice came through me like an arrow, piercing my head straight. I jolted up from my bed. The lovely and sweet Princess Anne’s birthday celebration.
Ms. Burrows, the head housemaid will kill me if I’m not dressed this instant. I can hear the clacking of her shoes getting louder, closer. The door slammed open.
“Oh, dear Lady Eva! What are you doing?”
I was putting on my corset when she came in, blasting the door open. Thankfully her plump figure filled the small doorway. I had feared someone might saw me half-naked. Ms. Burrows didn’t bother to call me Lady because she respected me. I know it was a frontal insult. I am no Lady and I never will be.
“Oh, dear Ms. Burrows! Thank God you came! I was struggling with my cor-” She cut me before I can utter another word.
“No lies this time, girl! You were supposed to be up and about doing kitchen business an hour ago! Now get dressed!”
And with that, Ms. Burrows implanted rules in young people’s mind. Leaving nothing but fear and discomfort. Fool be anyone who thought the downstairs was a safe place. A servant or two get beaten daily. In secret of course. I hadn’t known this until I came here myself and became one of the beaten servants.
As I pulled my uniform over and the apron lay safely over it, someone knocked on my door. Truly, a knock was not needed since my door was sprung open.
“Eva? Will you help with the baked dish?” A soft voice rung something in me, relief.
“Martha! Of course. I’m sorry, I overslept again.”
Another kitchen maid, kind face with brown hair. Just like every one of us. Except Martha was not like every one of us. She is kinder and her hair is better than others. She took care of her hair, using oils nearly every day. I don’t know what kind of oils she was using. The smell of it always with her everywhere she goes. Floral sweet but also woody. Martha was raised in a southern village, Little Wakering, where most days it was warmer and dryer than London. The sea is your neighbor and the church is where people have fun. Although it’s been almost ten years since she moved to London, I feel she still like to find the sea near and the church fun. I had no such memory of a childhood home. I grew up here, in this grimy, sunken place. Oils made my scalp itch. My hair kept short so I won’t need to spent hours to braid them into perfection. Ms. Burrows never liked the idea but she made me put on a low bun. You need to look presentable, she said. What does looks had to do with kneading dough or stirring milk into butter? My arms weak and my stomach empty, those won’t help with me with my looks. However, I did what she said, all of it. Just like every other servant.
Princess Anne took a great fondness for baked dishes. All from sweet to salty dishes are requested for her birthday celebration. As a kitchen maid we are told how to keep the sweetness of milk and the flour free of fleas. Eggs that have uneven gray patches are half rotten, they smell worse if kept in the light. Better throw them away before any royal got poisoned. Many things are told in the downstairs, things that the upstairs won’t know or bother to care.
I had a teacher once, she told me about how to hold a spoon. Why would anyone care about how you hold a spoon? I have a teacher now, she told me about how to stir a dough.
“Stir them clockwise, girl! Or you’ll have them flat and thick as a brick,” That was my teacher. Her eyes as sharp as an eagle.
Had I known what was right and wrong then, I wouldn’t be here now. Had my father known what was right and wrong then, he wouldn’t be deep under the ground now. But I know better now, all thanks to the friendship that I made a long time ago with Martha. Our faces grow older and our knowledge grow wider. If all that was safely kept hidden, we will be alright. If only some things can be secret forever.
The kitchen had people deliver plenty sack of potatoes in every three days. Not all of them are eaten and half of them are getting green by the end of the week. Pierre have been the cook for the king’s household for more than ten years. He often boasts of that, none of us can forget. He will have those potato stored in a wooden box outside the kitchen and Mr. Carlson, the pig farmer, will pick them up on Sunday. Since I arrived here, the routine stayed just the same. If anything was to be learned upstairs, it was the mundane of routine. As it turned out to be, downstairs routines are not more mundane than upstairs routines. So, on every boring and mundane Sunday, I took some of the green potatoes. Again, and again until I have a bunch underneath my bed. On another boring and mundane Sunday, I stitched a pocket big enough to hold the potatoes. I hope they know they have a glorious purpose. Besides feeding the people.
This, I have not learned from anyone upstairs or downstairs. I simply observe. I believe being observant have a superpower-like perks. You see, we must do something to face injustice. My father told me; we must defend the people at all costs, protect them while our hearts are still beating, and until our bodies are no longer warm. A bit dramatic if you ask that of me. My father did just that in his life. Though I wish he had longer life, so far, I cannot learn anything better than that. I will do what I did best. Observe. Until I can no longer observe. That means I have full control of what I’m observing.
The cakes and small pastries are done, that means the pies will be next. Warm pies full of sweet jellied marmalade. Princess Anne will want this for her brother too, as a token of respect and congratulation. The prince was not seemed to be the kind of man for birthday celebration, especially a six-years-old-princess’ birthday celebration. Despite his lavish lifestyle and fancy uniform, it is odd to see him not attending a family party. However, my observations are saying the contrary.
Martha’s voice disrupted my bubble of plan. She tapped my shoulder, waiting for me to say something.
“You’re not listening, are you?” She raised her right eyebrow.
“I… I was focused on the cake, what were you saying?” I can only offer her a sloppy smile. My focus resumed to covering the cake with buttercream.
“I was saying… Never mind that. Do you think they’ll invite us for the party? To the main hall?”
“I don’t know. Why?” My hand slipped. A harsh line surfaces, the butter cream was smudged.
My head was blurry again, I can’t hear what Martha was saying. I kept my hand steady to fix the smudge. Once this flaw is covered, I can continue on decorating the top layer.
I believe Martha had said something about people, maid, cook, and guard and also main hall. But I can’t connect all the lines. For me it won’t be a problem if the servants are not invited. I think Martha feel different about that. I told her that the guarding post will be focused on the main hall, so they’ll be sparing guards from the prince’s room. All entry of the main hall will be guarded by three guards. The other halls are free.
“What? I would like to be a royal guard for a day. Just standin’ there… If they guard the main hall’s entry, they can watch that circus performer too! Don’t you think it will be fun?” A bright smile appeared on her face. Seeing it on Martha makes me think the smile will be permanent on her. It suits her.
I nodded. Indeed, it will be. I can freely go to any room that I want.
“Oh! The pie’s ready!”
Carefully, Martha wrapped a cloth over the oven’s handle and pulled the oven door slowly. Steam brushed her face so suddenly. Martha closed her eyes, dark lashes fringed across her pale skin.
“You should turn your face away from the steam, Martha.”
She stepped aside as I pulled down the oven door, exposing the two marmalade pies inside it. Cloth wrapped around the pies, protecting my hands from burning as I slid them out. The pies landed softly on top of the counter.
“Can you handle the butter cream? I’ll put these on the plate.”
Martha understands me. Her enthusiastic nod was always helping a friend. I’m not sure if I’m going to tell Martha about everything. Maybe not the whole truth. Let the day she came to me with the news of a kitchen maid vacancy in London be the last good remnants of my past. I will write a letter of goodbye to her and that is it, the last good thing from our friendship to look back to.
Holding these golden pies makes me less certain of the plan that I had in mind. Mostly the part where I will leave my best friend behind.
The buzz of the kitchen is not slowing down. Footmen clamoring the downstairs, basically every space they can walk on. Some of them are familiars and some of them are a blur of men passing by every day. Jamie and his twin, Murphy, they stuck around at the kitchen more than the other. I know them. They talk about Little Wakering with Martha. The more familiar the twins are with Martha, the more information they spill to her. Jamie said one of the prince’s guards has a really bad body odor and in busy times like this Jamie prefers to stay away from him. Gratefully, he showed us how. Murphy on the other hand has his own way of running away from things he dislikes. Took him a while to admit to us that he had asthma. Never liked the piling perfume of rich people, he said. Murphy didn’t exactly show us how he escaped the situation. I followed him after dinner, once. There is a room with wallpaper on its door. An extra storage room with a nice window, made for when a guest brings too many luggage. I had duplicated the keys by the end of the week. On some days I saw him entering the room and he just disappeared for hours. Sometimes Jamie had to fake his twin's presence, how odd.
I passed the storage room on the way to the prince’s bedroom, more of a hideout, since he hid in his room from every party. The hallway is empty. My head keeps saying the pie will fall any moment, for each step was heavier than before. I let my nails dug deep in to the plate, it will do nothing except hide my trembling hands. Edges of the stairs looked so sharp before you step over it but once you arrived to the next level it will all be forgotten. Because you passed them. But still, they are dangerous.
I took the long way around the main hall just like Jamie did. These are all empty bedrooms. Big bedrooms. I had spent most of my time here thinking that these rooms are haunted and therefore no one let it be used. But it’s just for guests. Luxury. No servant ever gained better than what they have downstairs, it makes me mad. Not because I expected one for myself but because I know the people downstairs deserves better. They could have better. Now I thought, if my father was still alive, they could have better. I gripped the plate tighter. No one is around. Good. It will make this easier then. My destination is getting closer and it filled my head with drum beats, deafening my ears too.
My breath taken away from my chest, my steps falter in sync. The door was ajar. A light laughter spilled out like a flute in a song. A woman’s voice. I wanted to walk away, back to where the servants belong but I can’t. My legs won’t move. I can’t go back now. It had to be tonight. I forced my legs to move forward, push myself to unfold the plan. The pie is still warm and the poison is still there. It had to be tonight and it had to be two.
Maybe I knocked a little too loud. The door was pulled before I can even say a word and my fist still hung in the air. I looked like I’m about to punch the prince. I lower my head immediately.
“Ah! Is It from the princess?”
There is a nervousness in his voice and an unusually high pitch. It made him sound dumb. Slightly, I moved my hand and offer the pie to him. Hoping that he would take it and be done with it. He did take the pie, I looked up and the king stared back at me.
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Well, that's one way to say screw the monarchy. I loved the end. Thanks for Writing!
Thanks!! I'm curious, what are your assumptions about Eva's intentions? (before you got to the end)
She seemed to just be living her life, cheating potatoes like normal people do. I think I eat too much potato soup to assume anything nasty, so the ending came off as surprising.
Yes, she was.. More like trying to 'look' normal. But she's actually did not eat all that potatoes.. She was extracting the poison from the rotting potatoes! I think there's a gap there.. Whoops! I feel like this story need more words but unfortunately I was in a rush when I wrote it. Thanks for your respond :)
I've literally written things in under an hour for this site, and left way larger gaps, you at least left two & two right there, and you didn't exactly expect it to equal eleven. Potatoes get poisonous when they go bad, and solanine extraction is possible. Though it would be the long way around considering how much a human can eat of it without too much damage. Though that might be different for well-bred=inbred monarchs.
Oh, you are right! I haven't thought of that, I just thought that a really concentrated solanine is bad. Anyways, what if I told you that the actual target wasn’t the king?