by Jeanette O’Hagan c 2014
Prince Naetok sniffed the warm smells of the kitchen and his tummy rumbled. Peccaries on spits were turning in the great fireplace, while servants rushed around preparing a plethora of dishes for tonight’s feast. He licked his lips. On the high bench near the open kitchen door, was a bowl full of plump, round berries. As the master cook rushed by balancing a tray heaped with fruit, Naetok tugged on the stocky man’s tunic.
‘I want some blueberries.’
Master Tuusik came to a standstill, his jowls quivering. ‘Begging your pardon, your Highness. I can’t give them to you. Your royal father has requested cheewa-blueberry bites for tonight’s feast.’
Naetok scowled. ‘But I don’t want many.’
‘It’s not worth my position to disobey the Kapok, your Highness.’ The man grabbed a sunfruit from a bowl on a table and held it out to the prince. ‘Here, have as many of these as you want. I promise, you’ll love the blueberry bites tonight. In the meantime, I must keep working.’ The cook hurried away.
Naetok gripped the fruit as disappointment flooded him. Normally, he had the run of the kitchen but Papa’s word was law. It wouldn’t matter how much fuss he made, the kitchen staff would not contravene it. As he clamped his teeth into the juicy fruit, red juice dribbled down his chin. The soft flesh slid down his throat in a burst of rich sweetness but his eyes kept straying to the plump berries.
If he took only a few, no one would notice. He swallowed the last bite of the sunfruit and wiped his hands on his tunic. Everyone was too busy with their tasks to notice of him. Looking around for something to climb up on, he spotted a couple of baskets stacked near the open door. Ducking his head, he snuck under a table and crept towards them. His heart jumped as a bird poked its strong grey beak inside the doorway. Its head titled, it stared at him with a startling blue eye. Naetok lunged at it. It squawked and flapped its wings, before flying away. Grasping the handles of a basket, he pulled it off the top of the pile. The others tilted and wobbled. He held his breath, only letting it out when they stopped moving. Dragging the heavy basket towards the bench, he clambered on top of it and gripped the edge of the bench. His other hand hovered over the bowl of blueberries.
Something seized the back of his tunic and he was lifted up until his feet dangled in the air. His heart hammered against his chest and his mouth went dry. If Papa found out… He twisted around and met the knowing gaze of his older half-brother, Rokkan.
‘What are you up to, scamp?’
He squirmed, trying to free himself from Rokkan’s grip. ‘Let me go. I’ll tell Papa.’
‘What that you were about to steal his blueberries?’
‘I thought you were on guard duty.’
‘Just got off. So let’s go talk to Papa, shall we.’
His heart lurched. Not a good idea. There was only so much he could get away with and Papa’s punishments could be severe.. ‘I wasn’t going to take any. I was just scaring the bird away.’
His brother arched one eyebrow. ‘Right. You don’t expect to cozen me, do you Naetok?’
‘Please, Rokku, don’t tell Papa. You know he’s busy in council talking with the Markans.’
Rokkan’s eyebrows angled down. He was tall, taller than Papa already. ‘Do you understand, Natu, that Master Tuusik would be in serious strife if he didn’t produce Papa’s favourite treats tonight? You know the Kapok doesn’t like excuses.’
A niggle in Naetok’s chest made him squirm. He looked at the floor. He hadn’t thought about it like that.
His brother set him down on the flagstones but kept a hold of his shoulder. ‘Well, I don’t want to get you into trouble. Just promise me you won’t try to sneak food behind the cooks’ backs again.’
Naetok tipped his head back and studied his older half-brother’s face. A twinkle lurked behind the stern facade. His brother was a big softie really. ‘Okay, Rokku. I promise.’
Rokkan grinned. ‘Well, let’s get out from under the kitchen staff’s feet.’
‘Ooh, can we go for a ride? I could ride Eclipse, please, please.’ Naetok jiggled up and down with excitement, pushing the near scare out of his mind.
His brother shook his head and chuckled. ‘You’re incorrigible, little brother. Hmm, maybe.’
They left the bustling kitchen together and headed towards the stables.
Other Tamrin Tales
And The Herbalist’s Daughter (in Tied in Pink romance anthology)
My Sister by Dinnis son of Gaia In Twelfth Year of Rokkan Kapok (Hypertext Story)