The one benefit to scullery duty was that the kitchen was warm. Hot, even. The great brick oven and hearth were blazing, chasing away the morning mist that slithered in from the trees beyond the bay of windows above the copper sinks. There were only two other people in the kitchen—a hunched old man tending to the bubbling pots on the hearth and a youth at the wooden table that split the kitchen in half, chopping onions and monitoring what smelled like bread. By the Wyrd, she was hungry. That bread smelled divine. And what was in those pots?
Despite the absurdly early hour, the young man’s merry prattling had echoed off the stones of the stairwell, but he’d fallen silent, both men stopping their work, when Rowan strode down the steps into the kitchen. The Fae prince had been waiting for her down the hall, arms crossed, already bored. But his animal-bright eyes had narrowed slightly, as if he’d been half hoping she would oversleep and give him an excuse to punish her. As an immortal, he probably had endless patience and creativity when it came to thinking up miserable punishments.
Rowan addressed the old man by the hearth—standing so still that Celaena wondered if the prince had learned it or been born with it. “Your new scullery maid for the morning shift. After breakfast, I have her for the rest of the day.” Apparently, his lack of greeting wasn’t personal. Rowan looked at her with raised brows, and she could see the words in his eyes as clearly as if he’d spoken them: You wanted to remain unidentified, so go ahead, Princess. Introduce yourself with whatever name you want.
At least he’d listened to her last night. “Elentiya,” she choked out. “My name is Elentiya.” Her gut tightened.
Thank the gods Rowan didn’t snort at the name. She might have eviscerated him—or tried to, at least—if he mocked the name Nehemia had given her.
The old man hobbled forward, wiping his gnarled hands on a crisp white apron. His brown woolen clothes were simple and worn—a bit threadbare in places—and he seemed to have some trouble with his left knee, but his white hair was tied back neatly from his tan face. He bowed stiffly. “So good of you to find us additional help, Prince.” He shifted his chestnut-brown eyes to Celaena and gave her a no-nonsense once-over. “Ever work in a kitchen?”
With all the things she had done, all the places and things and people she had seen, she had to say no.
“Well, I hope you’re a fast learner and quick on your feet,” he said.
“I’ll do my best.” Apparently that was all Rowan needed to hear before he stalked off, his footsteps silent, every movement smooth and laced with power. Just watching him, she knew he’d held back last night when punching her. If he’d wanted to, he could have shattered her jaw.
“I’m Emrys,” the old man said. He hurried to the oven, grabbing a long, flat wooden shovel from the wall to pull a brown loaf out of the oven. Introduction over. Good. No wishy-washy nonsense or smiling or any of that. But his ears—
Half-breeds. Peeking up from Emrys’s white hair were the markers of his Fae heritage.
“And this is Luca,” the old man said, pointing to the youth at the worktable. Even though a rack of iron pots and pans hanging from the ceiling partially blocked her view of him, he gave Celaena a broad smile, his mop of tawny curls sticking up this way and that. He had to be a few years younger than her at least, and hadn’t yet grown into his tall frame or broad shoulders. He didn’t have properly fitting clothes, either, given how short the sleeves of his ordinary brown tunic were. “You and he will be sharing a lot of the scullery work, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, it’s absolutely miserable,” Luca chirped, sniffling loudly at the reek of the onions he was chopping, “but you’ll get used to it. Though maybe not the waking up before dawn part.” Emrys shot the young man a glare, and Luca amended, “At least the company’s good.”
She gave him her best attempt at a civilized nod and took in the layout again. Behind Luca, a second stone staircase spiraled up and out of sight, and the two towering cupboards on either side of it were crammed with well-worn, if not cracked, dishes and cutlery. The top half of a wooden door by the windows was wide open, a wall of trees and mist swirling beyond a small clearing of grass. Past them, the ring of megaliths towered like eternal guardians.
She caught Emrys studying her hands and held them out, scars and all. “Already mangled and ruined, so you won’t find me weeping over broken nails.”
“Mother keep me. What happened?” But even as the old man spoke, she could see him putting the pieces together—see him deciphering Celaena’s accent, taking in her swollen lip and the shadows under her eyes.
“Adarlan will do that to a person.” Luca’s knife thudded on the table, but Celaena kept her eyes on the old man. “Give me whatever work you want. Any work.”
Let Rowan think she was spoiled and selfish. She was, but she wanted sore muscles and blistered hands and to fall into bed so exhausted she wouldn’t dream, wouldn’t think, wouldn’t feel much of anything.
Emrys clicked his tongue. There was enough pity in the man’s eyes that for a heartbeat, Celaena contemplated biting his head off. Then he said, “Just finish the onions. Luca, you mind the bread. I’ve got to start on the casseroles.”
Celaena took up the spot that Luca had already vacated at the end of the table, passing the giant hearth as she did so—a mammoth thing of ancient stone, carved with symbols and odd faces. Even the posts of the brazier had been fashioned into standing figures, and displayed atop the thin mantel was a set of nine iron figurines. Gods and goddesses.
Celaena quickly looked away from the two females in the center—one crowned with a star and armed with a bow and quiver, the other bearing a polished bronze disk upheld between her raised hands. She could have sworn she felt them watching her.
Breakfast was a madhouse.
As dawn filled the windows with golden light, chaos descended on the kitchen, people rushing in and out. There weren’t any servants, just weathered people doing their chores or even helping because they felt like it. Great tubs of eggs and potatoes and vegetables vanished as soon as they were placed on the table, whisked up the stairs and into what had to be the dining hall. Jugs of water, of milk, of the gods knew what were hauled up. Celaena was introduced to some of the people, but most didn’t cast a look in her direction.
And wasn’t that a lovely change from the usual stares and terror and whispers that had marked the past ten years of her life. She had a feeling Rowan would keep his mouth shut about her identity, if only because he seemed to hate talking to others as much as she did. In the kitchen, chopping vegetables and washing pans, she was absolutely, gloriously nobody.