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Pies and Jam

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I started at the castle when Merida was a wee babby who chewed happily on anything she could reach. The Queen asked me to make sure she didn't reach anything dangerous while she was in my kitchen, which she was quite a lot as she grew older, liking the bustle and noise and smells as she did. Most of what was in my kitchen was dangerous, so I learned the knack of making little pies. They kept her busy enough.

As Merida grew from babby to lass, Elinor'd come with her into the kitchen and they'd help me to cook. I taught them pies and tarts, and Elinor's hands covered Merida's on the rolling pin. They'd come in every so often, except when Elinor was abed with the princes, and eventually Merida's hands grew to be the same size as Elinor's, and strong, and then slightly bigger. Elinor was always an elegant, delicate lady, and sturdy Merida took after her father.

Merida grew into a young lady, and the conversations they had over the pastries grew louder as one forced and the other resisted. I might have made comments about how pastry is pastry, and there's no good trying to make bread of it, but that pastry needs to fit into the pie dish or it's good for nothing, but they were neither of them ever in the mood to listen to me when they were in a row. The rolling pin got used for emphasis more than for rolling. Their kitchen visits slowed down, and eventually stopped. I kept making pies. The three little terrors enjoyed them enough, as did the King, and Merida'd grab them as she fled out the door.

Her mother used to come in and ask me if I'd seen the Princess, and I generally lied. She'd get a furrow in her fine brow, and sigh, and look elsewhere. I'd feel ashamed, but when something is chafing, the best thing to do is to separate them periodically so the skin has time to heal and thicken Elinor and Merida, in my opinion, needed to build up some calluses.

Calluses, dear. Not callousness. The two of 'em were never callous. They'd try to be, but I'd see 'em afterwards, and they were raw. It wasn't my place to say anything, though, being just the cook. I wasn't Family.

Then there was that nasty business with the bears. The less said about that, the better. Horrible! I was jumping at shadows for weeks on end, and I wasn't the only one.

It did have one upside, though. The two of them came back into my kitchen one day. I handed them rolling pins, got out the flour and the butter (the wee lads were certainly good at making butter, full of energy as they were, and if you asked me, our butter was better than any there was. O' course, our milch cows didn't have to be afraid of bears, not with Fergus and Merida around), and left 'em to it.

Well. I say left 'em to it, but I may have been just in the pantry, and left the door open a wee bit. Otherwise I'd not have heard them talking of the MacGuffins.

"Lord MacGuffin," said the Queen, dipping the tip of her finger into the evron jam and ignoring Merida's scandalized and delighted gasp, "has a good head on his shoulders. His son's much like him. When you're running the kingdom, you'll do well to listen to them."
"I can't tell what Young MacGuffin's even saying!"
"Ah, well. That will pass, Merida. You should have seen his father at that age - couldn't say a word for stammering! Especially when I was around. He'd lose his tongue entirely."
"Mum!"
"There were other men besides your father, dear. I was quite pretty when I was considering suitors, and Lord MacGuffin would have been a very suitable match."

I listened to them roll out pastry in silence for a while, then:
"You're still quite pretty, Mum."
"Thank you, Merida."
"Runs in the family, I think."
Through the cracked door, I could see the Queen rolling her eyes, but she was smiling.

The next time, I was just finishing up some apple pies of my own, and we'd plenty of tarts left from the day before, so I set them to making leek soup, and busied myself with getting the pies out of the oven and starting some bread going. Good, solid work, making bread. Before long, I could hear them back at it again.
"I just don't understand, Merida. I point -"
"-aim!"
"-aim the arrow where I want it to go, and then lift up a bit like you showed me, and then I don't move except to let go of the string and the arrow just flies off sideways!"
"I keep telling you, Mum, you're holding the bow too tightly!"
"But if I don't hold it tightly, it will spring out of my hands!"
"It's... hm. It's like you told me, about Lord Murray, aye? You've got to balance it. If you're too polite and give him the really good whisky, he kens you're trying to persuade him of something and he won't have it. If you're not polite enough, and you give him the new stuff, he'll be angry. Either way, he'll fly off in some direction you don't want, and then you have to start over."
"You were listening!"
"I can listen if it's just while we're making pies, Mum. Anyway, it's like that. Too tight, and the arrow won't go where you want it to, too loose, and everything just sort of snaps at you."
"People are much more easily balanced, I think."
"You'll get it, Mum. I'll help."

I told Moira to give them both a bit of extra honey in their breakfast parritch the next day, it was so lovely. My kitchen felt properly warm again with the two of them in it.

It wasn't all honey, of course. Habits are habits, after all, and every so often a cry of "We're not cooking now, Mum, I don't want to hear about the Auchinlecks!", followed by an exasperated "Merida!" would float down into the kitchen from upstairs and we'd all duck. Well, of course we ducked, dear, we remembered things being thrown. Not at us, mind, but Merida's aim was never as good when she was in a hot rage.

But they'd be civil the length of a pie, or of soup, or of bacon and eggs, and more and more otherwise. As time passed, and Merida started taking on more of the diplomacy -- Elinor said she had a knack for talking to the more warlike lords -- they brought the lads into the kitchen with them, and that was the end of peace and quiet in my own little kingdom.