Lornabe and Old Lezze
Lornabe descended down the stone spiral staircase, it was distantly familiar, which left the young woman with haunted feelings. The old Manor was built long ago, during the last age, and that history showed itself in the walls, in the spaces and slits of the stones, in the air through the corridors. This place did not feel like home anymore but its memory had always crept into the lass’ mind. So many winters since she touched these stones and saw the flickering light of the kitchen fires. She suddenly remembered their ever-glowing warmth as the cooks and servants hurried about. She did not even know if the old cook was still at the house. So far she did not recognize many faces, what with the Ban Lord bringing his own staff years ago, but somehow she felt she was there…
She landed at the foot of the staircase and looked about. Some of the assistants scurried to the corners, trying to hide their curiosity with mundane tasks. Then she saw her, her familiar, tired shoulders, and frazzled hair falling out of her brown kerchief. Cook was bent over a counter, kneading bread and mumbling softly - probably about what else needs prepping before the dinner hour. It was like she stepped back in time again, but the angle was different as she was very small the last time she was in this kitchen, this place of warmth and wonder. A strange, tingling feeling began to stir within her mind
“Lezze,” she said softly. The cook stood up straight and paused. Then breathed a sigh of relief as she turned around. Lezze shook the flour from her wrinkled, worked hands and smiled.
“I thought you might not remember me,” she half-laughed as she winked.
"I never forgot you a single day,” Lornabe said as she stepped forward, arms open.
“Oh, dear child, you’ve grown!” Lezze said, blinking back tears as they hugged tightly. “It has ben’ too many winters.”
“You never thought me dead?”
“I couldn’t! Not after what happened. Many of us hoped. And prayed.”
“Oh, Lezze!” Lornabe was near tears in the old cooks arms again. She stepped back.
“We still have a candle by the back door for you-” Lezze took the young woman’s hand and led her to the counter. “I’ll show you another time. Come, grab an apron, an’ help me get this loaf over the fire.” Lornabe smiled as she took off her coat, threw it over a stool, and plucked an apron from the side around from Cook.
"Everything is as I remember," Lornabe thought.
“You’re a grown woman now, an’ I hear you’ve a husband, so we’ll need to catch you up on cooking an’ baking,” Lezze continued. Lornabe finished tying the delicate knot of the old, worn apron and stepped up to knead the dough. It felt soft and stretchy on her knuckles and palms. She had not kneaded dough nor tasted baked bread in twelve years.
“Now, I’ve a pie crust already for filling-” Lezze snorted, satisfied her former pupil’s efforts, “-so what shall I fill it with? Gooseberries, blackberries or skip the berries and use the first of the season’s apples?” She blinked as she spoke.
"By Grace, It’s- Old master’s girl, here again. Unbelievable," Lezze thought. Lezze had always hoped Fiola made it out alive. Too many of the house died or fled the day Ban Lord Merhin and his foreign wife were brutalized and murdered. The whole of the Manor and its staff were savagely attacks by gangs with no honor or sense, under the wretched direction of a jealous lord. That awful day had not entered Old Lezze’s mind for years. Those few days. Beaten and spat on by thugs, harassed and robbed at sword point. She thought her age would save her from rape, but it was her knives and her assurances of cooked meat that kept her safe until the Ban Lord Faustus, then a younger man, rode in and swiftly took charge.
“Apples. I remember your sweet-apple pies best.”
“Aye then. Clar!” Lezze shouted. Shouting was all she could do to keep herself from reliving those nightmares and jump for joy at the same time. She did not want the young woman to know how they all suffered. It was not her place to share those dark memories, especially since this lass has taken the heads of undead out in the wild! “Fetch the first large jar of spiced apples! Florda, get a bunch of sweet leaf minced, then ground!” Lezze smiled at Lornabe as the help murmured ‘aye, Cook,’ in rhythm and ducked out of sight to the herb garden and pantry.
“Everything is almost exactly as I remember it,” Lornabe said looking around. “Well, actually I remember more light, more yellow fire light.”
“You made a habit of coming down here before dinner, more often in winter. So cold and drafty in so many spaces in this house; poor little thing you were, looking only to stay warm. You never once begged for a treat or a taste, Grace bless you. Made you tolerable.” Lezze winked.
“But I was always glad to take your offers.”
“Aye, true,” Lezze laughed as she took a large knife and a bushel of carrots in her hands. “I still remember your sour face when you first tried swallow peppers! Oh, I thought you would go running, screaming an’ spitting, but you swallowed it, the whole thing. Ha!”
“I wish I could remember that.” Lornabe searched her memory quickly, too quickly, but kept a stoic expression on her face. She wanted to stay focused on the dough, which was ready for a pan. Her thoughts ran wild, so many memories, sight and scent, surrounded her, and the whole experience brought on a strange stirring. She could feel the yellow, hot fire from the ovens of long ago. The whole room seemed smaller but she could see in her mind and sense with her hands the vastness of the kitchen from a little girl’s eyes. Lornabe shook her head as she knew she would be dizzy soon. She did not want to startle Old Lezze. Her hands found a pan and carefully placed the dough in it.
“You were barely able to toddle up and down those stairs on your own then. Your nurse thought the kitchen was a good place for a young lass to be occasionally,” Lezze continued, chopping at the carrots with rhythmic precision.
“So that’s how I fell in love with this space.”
“Aye, I objected at first, as did your father, but your mother insisted. I recall her saying very clearly, ‘I spent a lot of my girlhood in a kitchen and such treasured moments gave me great insight, an’ our girl shall have just such a chance to learn as I did.’” Lornabe walked to the oven and placed the pan on the rack. She tried not to remember the last time she saw her mother’s face; a face of terror as men tore at her hair and ripped apart her dress. “Bu’ o’ course, she said it all fine and pretty like an Orsceacian. Ha, she was a gentle lady but stern when she wanted to be.”
“Indeed,” Lornabe whispered.
“Well now, tell me about your man!” Lezze asked, regretting her mentioning of the former lady.
“Rico? He’s a man. One I’m not sure about but he’s…”
“He’s what? He doesn't beat you does he?”
“No! No, that’s not something that happens a lot in… in our culture.”
“He’s useful,” Lornabe quickly said, as Lezze carried the carrots over to a large pot which sat on another fire. She stirred in the freshly cut vegetables slowly as she listened, but Lornabe did not want to go into too much detail about the Way. "But if I can’t talk to Lezze without fear of judgment, what kind of diplomat am I?" she thought.
“Rico is a fine warrior and a cunning man, we’ve traveled together for three winters now. We are married because my foster father, the Keeper, commanded I marry.”
“Commanded you?” the old cook placed her free hand defiantly on her hips.
“Well, it happens here too,” Lornabe gestured to the stairs, as if signalling that the whole house represented all Aumondesh-Gracen marital culture. “Larken invoked a Rite of the Way, I could not refuse without casting myself out. But I didn't have to marry the man he chose.”
“Oh! And who was the man this Larken chose for the esteemed noble of House Merhin?” Cook was smiling again and moving about, checking on the fires, wiping flour off the counter to the smooth, stoned floor.
“His heir to the place of Keeper.” Old Lezze looked puzzled briefly. “A prince of my people.”
“And you turned ‘im down?”
“I would not have been able to come here.”
“Aye! You are a clever one, you!”
The cook’s assistants came back with their respective items, but Lornabe couldn’t help noticing Florda took longer than necessary and Clar had a shade of blush on his right cheek that wasn’t there before. She smiled and looked out the small window to the guards’ training fields. This was her still her home, and it was a home she had loved and longed for for many years. The young woman breathed a sigh of relief and took off the apron.
“I’m afraid I must be on my way, Lezze.”
“Oh, ‘o course, child,” Lezze smiled. She knew her place and felt no bitterness, she actually felt lighter and more content than she had in years. “The pie’ll be in good order after dinner is served. An’ dinner’s at the first bell.”
“Thank you, Lezze,” Lornabe said with her whole heart, she then picked up her coat and made for the stairs. “Keep the candle lit, would you, please?” she said over her shoulder, “For warm memories.”
“I think I can manage that, my lady,” Lezze called after her in between grunts as she struggled with the lid to jar of apples.