The Secret Keeper
Mysie was a beautiful child.
Born to the king’s first cook, she grew up as close to the kitchen as she possibly could. The smells and sounds fascinated her. Standing in the doorway, blonde curls softly framed wide eyes that took in all the action of the royal kitchen. She stood in that doorway as often as she could.
One day when Mysie was five, the baker nearly forgot the bread. Little Mysie took her fists and beat against the wall until her mother heard her above the noise of the kitchen and asked what in the heavens was the matter. She pointed towards the oven and the bread was saved.
Little Mysie was mute.
They never did figure out what exactly happened. Did she truly say something when she was two or was that only a cough? Was there anything abnormal about her birth? Her mother often thought through the tremors and terrors of that night but nothing could she have changed.
As Mysie grew older and stronger she was often allowed in the kitchen and began helping her mother with cleaning vegetables for stew, then cutting and mixing. By age 16, Mysie was as strong a hand in the kitchen as her mother could ever hope for. And yet she remained mute.
Then came the day when Mysie tried her hand at baking. When the queen tasted her bread and sampled the lightness of her pastry, she insisted that not only Mysie always make the pastries but that she bring them to her parlor for afternoon tea.
Mysie was honored by the attention and the queen fell in love with the gentle mute soul that could express so much heart through a smile and a nod or even sadness with quiet eyes. Soon it became that when she was not in the kitchen, Mysie was waiting upon the queen as her closest confidant.
For so it was that the rule upon the kingdom was not the most peaceful, I mean really, what kingdom has ever been great that has not ever had any internal discord or uneasy unrest? Often it was that the words spoken by the king within his bedchamber were voiced by the queen as silent Mysie brushed her hair. Much fear and anxiety echoed within those hallowed walls. Many times Mysie found herself kneading the worries of the kingdom into the bread dough.
Flour mixed with water as the ruminations of the royalty flitted between her ears. The dough mixed, the yeast rose, and Mysie watched the tremors of fear echo amongst the castle folk awaiting the king’s decision. And upon her lifting the bread from the oven, the castle was a hot flurry of confused understanding.
The king himself was a brilliant man and had extended the kingdom far beyond that of his original inheritance. And yet within his ambitious heart, there were such great fears that ordinary folks could hardly make out his reasoning.
Among the knights of the realm, for every great kingdom always has knights of the realm, there was a wise old knight by the name of Tobius.
Though born to humble farmers, Tobius had proved himself in the militia and had risen to the highest ranks of knighthood. He’d led many a foray into uncharted lands and brought back valuable resources and cultural developments from his endeavors.
It was this rise that began to incite the king’s fears. So it always is for those who cannot trust. And why? Too often the blame is on them for they are not trustworthy.
Upon Tobius’ autumn return that year, he promptly found himself locked in the highest tower with little more than bread and water. With his wife long passed, it was his daughter in the care of his sister who drew his thoughts even as the early chills of coming winter stiffened his joints within the stone confines of the tower.
The queen had an explanation for this. Mysie gently pulled apart the knots of her ladyship’s hair while listening to the bandied logic that defended the king’s decision.
“He’d gotten dangerous. That’s why he had to do it.”
After a time, Mysie focused more on the tangles of the queen’s hair than the impenetrable ramblings of justification.
It was one of Mysie’s rare days off that she found herself walking the castle garden. The scent of rosemary mixed with the cold wind consoled a heart heavy with troubles not her own. The briskness of hastening winter nipped her nose & cheeks with pink. Blonde curls still framed the face of the growing child though they curled darker than before.
The she continued about her tasks with the same faithfulness she gave all her duties. Even so it was a struggle to keep the pastry light. Winter brought its cleansing white and Tobius’ sister was seen wandering the courtyard, first approaching this captain, then that officer. Eventually, the woman made her way to the baker’s and left with a small basket.
From her view in the queen’s quarters, Mysie watched, then returned to her cleaning. Replacing the curtain, the windows’ frost was guarded from the warmth of the crackling fire whose smoke sometimes smarted the eyes.
It was that afternoon the queen joyfully told Mysie that the king was thinking to release Tobius on the condition he stay near the castle on his family farm. The queen’s heart now visibly eased by the king’s intentions of mercy, Mysie herself felt hope rebound.
Whence finished with her task, Mysie’s feet led her towards the kitchen where she was not needed but found herself making bread anyways. A while later and she entered the frosty castle courtyard with her hot bundle wrapped closely.
Heart pounded crossing the market. Her eyes glanced between the officers and the common people in the courtyard. Little children returned her gaze. She was dressed as a courtier.
Her footsteps led to the door. A threshold of splintering wood clung to flakes of newly fallen snow. A few knocks and the woman appeared.
Mysie offered her bundle.
A smile and shrug, Mysie turned her face to the doorframe which was speckled with black rot. The woman unwrapped the bundle. Heat from the fresh crust wafted into the chill air like a flower blooming in winter. Tired eyes looked towards the silent courtier with realization and surprise.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Won’t you come in?” she asked.
Mysie’s smile melted quickly and a small shake of her head clarified all. The woman nodded as if comprehending. Mysie curtsied again and then hurried away quickly. The woman went back into the house and closed the wooden door behind her.
A full two months passed before the king got around to keeping his word. Tobius looked years older from his few month stay. Nonetheless, he bowed respectfully to the king.
Mysie watched from the castle garden as the old knight walked slowly from the great hall through the market towards his sister’s abode.
The young courtier finished her rest in the garden and gracefully made her way towards the kitchen and her duties. Then she stopped. Stooping curiously, a tiny snowbell peeked out of the snow.