“Princess Altena, could you perhaps open the door for me?” Finn called quietly from behind the closed set of doors, knowing the young princess was sitting next to it on the other side by the play of shadows through the crack. The maids had called him from training with pleads to speak with the young princess of Leonster.
This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence since Lord Quan and Lady Ethlyn had returned, especially since the birth of Prince Leif. Though servants were surprised at the princess’s outbursts, what child enjoyed having her parents return, only for their attention to be snatched away once more?
The doorknob let out a soft creak as it turned. Altena, tall for her age, was able to reach it by raising her arm. She was dressed in a soft blue frock with small leather boots still on from when she was out playing in the gardens earlier. Her face was an angry red, but she was no longer crying. She raised up her arms, and Finn picked her up so they were at eye level. Usually, he would ask Altena if she wanted to go play or go see the horses, but this time another idea came to him.
“Why don’t we take a trip to the kitchens?”
Altena’s eyes grew wide. “But it’s not tea time yet.”
“I’m sure the cook won’t mind us using some space to make our own treat for tea time,” Finn assured her. It was the only thing he knew how to make that wasn’t for a wartime camp, but he knew it was simple enough for Altena to follow along with it.
“Why don’t you go play with the other kids, Finn?”
Finn looked up from the large book he had balanced on his knobby knees to Nan and shrugged. “I want to be here when mother and father get back.”
The cook frowned the first time he said this, but once it became a daily occurrence, she decided to do something else.
“Leave that tome on the stool and help me with something then. I promise you’ll have the first bite once it’s cooled.”
Finn’s face pinched together in doubt. “...It’s not a tome; tomes are magic.”
Nan rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine. Put it down and help me?”
Without further remark, Finn, like most quiet children who were often mistaken as obedient, decided to go along with the old cook’s game.
“So you mix the wet ingredients with the dry…” Finn instructed. Altena had already ruined her dress with flour, but the child looked far more invested in stirring than she had in anything else all day, stirring the wooden spoon with vigor. She was too short to reach the counter, so Finn had rested her on the table, with the bowl resting in her lap. After everything looked properly combined, he ushered Altena to dip her finger into the mixture to test it.
“Hmm, maybe we can stir a bit more, we don’t want to have a runny dough. Just a tad more.”
Altena nodded, wiping the leftovers on her already egg and flour- stained skirt, then going back to stirring. Finn was impressed with how committed she was to the activity. It had taken a good few times of observing Nan before he ever attempted to make it. Eventually, everything was combined, and Finn put some more flour on the table and told Altena to shape their dough just enough to make two parts- one regular, the other smaller, only big enough that it was slightly bigger than her hands.
Finn then quickly grabbed the prepared tray. “We should get these loaves into the oven.”
Altena was confused. “I thought…nurse said that bread needs to...mmm… needs to wait?”
Finn’s lips quirked up into a smile. “You’re right, Altena. Bread usually needs time to rise, but this is a special kind of bread- do you remember the extra white stuff we added?”
Altena nodded, wrinkling her nose. “It smelled weird.”
“Yes, but that will help the bread rise, so we don’t need to do too much.” Finn placed the loaves into the pan and grabbed a cooking knife to score them. “Let me do this part, grab the bowl of fruit now, and you can decorate the tops.”
Altena scattered a variety of dried cherries and plum, making a chaotic top. Oh well, these were a batch for family, not the court-
Finn paused, realizing the weight of his thoughts. Considering Lord Quan and Lady Ethlyn family…
Altena pulling at his sleeve and looking at him a near eye level from her counter perch brought him out of his thoughts. “Sorry, princess.”
It did not make due for him to act presumptuous, even in his thoughts.
When he got the news that his parents would not be coming back from their patrol of the Thracian border, Finn went to the only place in the house that still held warmth. Nan was sleeping by the still dimly burning cookfire, resting in a chair. Quietly, he sat down beside her on the stone floor and leaned his head against her knee. He was ten, about to be sent to military training, and too young to clamber into her lap, but this was allowed. Right now, this could perhaps be allowed.
Finn had to pull Altena back from the oven, worried that her floured skirts might catch a small spark of the flame. “It should be done any moment now.”
“But I want to see them now!”
“You don’t want your Lady mother eating raw dough, do you?” Finn asked.
Altena let out a weary sigh but stayed still. Finn did a quick search of the pantry and gave her a bit of honeycomb to pass the time. His years of training had greatly helped Finn keep time. When he took them out, they were perfectly brown with a crust on top decorated in roasted pieces of fruit. Finn grabbed a bottle of cream from the cold store, putting part of it into a smaller jar and sealing it. “Now let’s make butter while these cool.”
Though his arms grew sore from the shaking, the amazement on Altena’s face from the process of making something liquid solid reminded Finn of his own childhood memories. Even with magic in their land, the novelty was certainly interesting to a bored child.
Altena used a spoon to scrape and form the new butter on a dish decorated with red roses that briefly reminded Finn of Agustria, but the moment quickly passed. He added a small heap of marmalade beside the butter and placed the loaves into a basket. Finn wasn’t in Agustria, or Silesse, or Verdane- he was home.
“...Finn, can we take these to Mama and the baby?” Altena asked.
“As you command, princess,” Finn replied, before kneeling. “Will you be able to handle the basket, and I’ll take the dish?”
“Yes!” Altena marched proudly with her creation up to the nursery, Finn following behind in marching order. It was only a little thing, but if it helped even a fraction of how much this recipe had helped Finn, then he would be content.
Ten-year-old Altena ran down the long hall that was Thracia castle from the kitchen with something in her arms. Unlike the tall and skinny castles in the northlands, Thracia households kept all under one roof. She passed the wyvern stables, the side entrances to the training yard, their rooms until finally reaching the meeting hall, where her father was meeting with his generals. Some of them glared or shook their heads at her, and Areone looked at her with fear in his eyes at his new spot next to father, but Altena didn’t notice.
She did the deep bow her lance instructor told her one must do in front of a superior, then presented him with a basket of bread. It was plain, but with what ingredients she could find, she knew the bread was hardy and filling.
“...” Travant, slowly, turned his eyes towards her. “...Altena, you have begun your training as a knight of Thracia. You’re far too old to fetch what you please from our larder.”
“I made it, father. So you and your council could break their fast.” Altena replied, keeping her head bowed, but the bread brought forward.
Waiting for a moment more, Travant ripped a small part of the loaf away, lifting it to his mouth and began to chew. The hall was perfectly still.
Altena felt long, and battle-worn fingers rub the top of her head. “Well done, Altena. It is good.”
Though she kept her face calm as she thanked father for his praise, as she left the council, a huge smile spread across her face as she heard murmurs of appreciation for her work around the hall.
General Papillon was the first to speak up. “How odd that the princess knew the recipe for quick bread- that’s more popular in the commoner's kitchens than a castle.”
“What does it matter?” Travant replied, ripping a chunk of the loaf and handing it to Areone. “Bread is bread.”