“Izacc, I need you to be down here. You can enjoy the festivities once all the food is ready.”
I’m not surprised. I already told Ma that I would contribute to the cooking and baking and decorating and drink serving that’s going to commence for the Thanksgiving feast. The other boys my age are out kissing girls under drawbridges and playing games that demonstrate their strength. My own thin frame was not made for such things. I’ll gladly stay down here where it’s quiet and safe and the panic that wraps around my chest like an iron vice isn’t so bad.
She sends me to the electric ice box that we keep on the lower level of the castle’s kitchen. The wizard who brought it called it a ‘refrigerator,’ claiming it was named after the great man who originally crafted it. Refrigerator is a ridiculous name. It’s a mouthful that doesn’t tip off of the tongue correctly.
It should be called something mighty. Like frost falcon or ice eagle. The doors on the front spread like the giant wings of some arctic bird. The world would be so much cooler if we stopped naming everything after wrinkly wizards who haven’t seen the light of day in half a century.
I make it all the way down the stone steps before I notice the voices. Not the din of the overhead kitchen. There’s hushed whispers from somewhere down here.
It’s probably just other kitchen staff. There’s herbs and wines and all sorts of different ingredients stored in the bowels of the lower kitchen. It’s best to keep my nose out of others’ businesses and just grab the list of things Ma insisted were a staple requirement of her feast.
They already have all the meat upstairs. There’s pigs that have been roasting for over a day and huge slabs of steak that they marinated and left out to make the entire kitchen drool worthy. Ma said if I was really well behaved, she save me an entire lamb leg.
So, well behaved I intend to be.
The voices get louder as I wander through the dusty storage areas. There’s flour spilled on the floor. I step right in it, leaving a clear foot path for anyone to see my movements.
I’ll clean it later. Ma won’t mind.
White prints stamping along the dark floor, I brush aside some hanging herbs, the sweet scent of rosemary wrapping around my shoulders and wriggling into my nose. Crap. I take a deep breath and try to hold it in to no avail.
I’m going to sneeze. There’s no stopping it.
Clamping my hands over my face, I stagger back from the force of the sneeze, bumping into the nearest shelf and sending glass jars tumbling to the floor. They shatter in a ten different piles of glass, some spilling liquids onto the ground while others dump salts or dried flowers.
Ma is going to kill me.
I’m not getting a special, holiday plate.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
There’s gotta be a broom nearby. If I can just sweep it up quickly, I might still be able to grab all her ingredients and get back upstairs before she thinks I’ve been gone too long.
It isn’t until I’m at the end of the aisle that I realize that the other voices haven’t spoken in a few seconds. I’m going too fast to stop. I run straight into a wide chest.
The man reaches out to grab me, his hands wrapped around my biceps in order to keep me on my own feet. I open my mouth to apologize. Nothing comes out.
This cannot be happening.
The man keeping me upright isn’t just another member of the kitchen staff or family. He’s not any kind of serving staff. He’s… Luke. Not just Luke. Prince Lucas Lucke of Asterium.
And he should not be down here.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I have to make this better, but I am physically shaking in his hold and I can’t get a single word out.
“Hey, it’s okay.”
I understand that he is saying those words, but I continue to stare at him with my mouth open and my eyes far too wide to be considered respectful. Why is the prince in the bowels of the castle? I mean, it’s his castle, I suppose, and he can go wherever he wants, but I just have never seen him here.
I’ve seen him pretty much everywhere else. He plays tournaments in the summer with his shirt off. Girls are prone to fanning themselves and I have had to hold back from doing the exact same thing for the past two years.
In the winter, he wears bright tunics that stand out against the white snow layer and rolls his sleeves up to his elbows when he gets warm. There isn’t a single horse he can’t handle. His father is proud of him and awards him several badges each season for his achievements. For that matter, they’ll probably have a gratitude ceremony before dinner tonight.
Dinner. The feast. Ma is going to kill me.
Maybe she won’t get a chance if I just dissolve into ash in the prince’s hands.
“What’s your name?”
My heart hammers against my ribs. It rattles in my ears. Of course he doesn’t know my name.
I’m just some kitchen boy.
“You’re not in trouble. What’s your name?” He coaxes, his hands gentle yet firm on my upper arms.
“Zac,” I squeak, my voice cracking on the single syllable that I push through my clenched teeth.
“Zac?” Prince Luke repeats. He says it slowly like he’s really trying out the weight of it on his own tongue. “I see you a lot in the library.”
I duck my head. Crap. “I’m sorry. I’ve been learning to read. Ma said it wouldn’t be a problem as long as I stayed out of the way.”
“It’s not a problem,”he responds, calmly cutting through my stuttered response. “I think I’d like to see you there more often.”
Me? Little ol’ me?
That’s crazy talk.
Maybe the prince isn’t feeling well.
I don’t dare ask, though, as he finally lets me go, but doesn’t take a step back. We’re still so close. I can smell the citrusy scent of his expensive soaps. I always thought he would smell like grass. This is nice, though.
Or it’s not.
I’m supposed to be down here gathering supplies for Ma. Not talking to a prince and most certainly not thinking about the way he smells.
That’s not a normal thing to think about for a boy my age.
“You can say no if you don’t want to see me, Zac.”
He says my name again and my heart explodes into a million little pieces. “Of course I want to see you,” I blurt, my foolish mouth running ahead of my mind.
I’m going to have to change my name and go to work at a fishing pier in another land. This cannot happen. I’m a serving boy and he’s a prince. There’s no way we can be friends. A tiny voice whispers in the back of my mind that I’d like for us to even be something more, but I toss that aside.
Crazy. Super freaking crazy. The kind of crazy that gets people like me thrown in a dungeon or sent on a wild quest that either kills them or drives them mad.
I’m not the kind of guy who can shoulder his way through the world and come out unfazed. I’m small. I’m frankly quite pathetic.
Ma says I’m a good boy.
I don’t want to just be a boy anymore. I want to have a conversation with a prince and not feel like I’m completely lesser. I’m old enough to be providing for my family. I should act like a man.
Straightening my spine, I take a gasping breath that’s a little too loud for our close situation. “I have to get some things for the kitchen, but if there’s a time you’d like to meet again…”
I trail off. It was a good start. I had the right idea, I think.
Luke’s lips curl at the edges as he nods. “After dinner, meet me in the library. I’ve got some favorite books you should add to your reading.”
Oh. Today. The Prince wants to see me again.
There’s no good reason that should make my blood race and my breaths short, but Luke steps into a slight bow and takes his leave. I’m frozen in place for several ragged seconds. The Prince bowed to me.
Just plain ol’ Zac.
I hear Ma yell my name from the kitchen, her no nonsense tone carrying all the way through the lower kitchen. Right. Right. Right. Chores. Help Ma. Dinner. Library.
With the Prince.
My heart a wild bird in my chest, I hurry to finish cleaning and grabbing things for the kitchen while my mind looks forward to the rest of the night. Today’s the day my life changes forever. I hope it’s for the best.
Thanks for checking out the latest installment on the blog! If you’re a Zac fan, this story is going to take place a couple of years before his last story: The Bird Cage.
As always, check out Bridgette’s story on the same prompt: Late Night Visitor
And if you haven’t checked it out yet, I’ve just published the twentieth episode of Lore. You can check it out on Kindle Vella or click the link here: Lore by Angelica Reece
Have a wonderful week, readers!
We’ll see you next Saturday 🙂