to the small, lush, unnamed planet deep within the Triangulum Galaxy was a smooth one. She scanned the planet before landing and sent all information to her headquarters through her communicator. This is a small piece of equipment with access to the largest, and most complicated, computer ever conceived. Information of the planet was processed and returned to her almost immediately, despite being an incredibly long way away from the hub. The program, Son, found the ancient remains of a colony ship, which clearly showed signs of a crash landing on the planet. Due to her own history with colony ships and their resulting empires, she eagerly landed on the soft earth of the newer planet.
Camouflaging her ship
with the large indigenous plants, she made her way to one of the smaller settlements on the outskirts of, what appeared to be, the largest localized population on the planet. No communication methods were open to her ship; there was no one with technology to notice it, so she knew it was safe in the random, uncultivated field that she left it in. Figuring that keeping her alien status a secret was a must. Lin simply observed life in the town she wandered into. No one bothered her since she did not signal her ignorance of their culture. Their language was recognizable to Lin, but she needed to learn the deep accent and unique slang the nascent population had developed.
Starting off as an outsider
was always much harder than assimilating oneself into the culture after one learns it, so Lin always liked to practice the latter method, when she could. She found this population’s primitive way of life amazing, and quite brutal at times. Greatly relevant to her, bar fights break out if one apologizes for something, because then they are considered weak, and therefore easy prey. Lin became proficient enough with the language to start eating at their establishments and doing odd jobs, both tasks she found imperative to learning a new culture. She encountered some of the most despotic bosses she had ever had in her lengthy existence, worked grueling, long hours, but got a lot of valuable work done in that time.
It took weeks
until Lin found someone who was not angry at everyone else. After Lin witnessed a man openly sexually harass a young waitress, she got up on reflex and punched the guy in the face. The hit dazed him, but he soon rose to his feet and they fought, while the waitress cussed her out for interfering, despite her clear opposition to the harassment. Lin accepted her defeat as more and more joined in on his side of the fight, forcing her to slowly make her way back to her ship to eat something. She hobbled away because she was beat up bad from her foolish reaction to something that did not sit right with her. Lin’s knees locked up, and she fell to the ground. She had been in too many fights since her arrival.
A young lady,
who also worked at the tavern Lin just left, put her hand on Lin’s shoulder, and without saying a word she helped Lin to her feet. Lin recognized the uniform, but she had never seen the woman before. Lin allowed herself to be led by the woman, and after walking about a mile through the gridless streets, they came to a stop in front of a quaint home, just outside the main throng of buildings. Inside it was warm and inviting, two things Lin had not experienced in a long time. Lin sat in a big chair and started to converse with the young woman.
They became quick friends
and Lin told her everything within days of knowing one another. Lin moved in, but continued her odd jobs to help support her new friend. As warm and kind as the woman was with Lin, she was the opposite at her work, or in public, and Lin concluded that there were more people here who were secretly kind, than just her new friend. This gave Lin many ideas of crazy schemes they could undertake to try and change the society. They landed on a wild plan to infiltrate the palace of the ruling monarchs as servants, and see how far the culture of cruelty of this small planet’s sentient inhabitants ran.
“I’m not cleaning chamber pots!”
Lin’s friend, Pauline, claimed while they finalized their plans.
“I agree with that sentiment, but we must stick together,”
Lin added, assuring Pauline that is what was most important.
“Personal maids probably don’t interact much, because they are always needed by the royal court,”
Pauline reasoned. She slumped into her chair further.
“Unless we were assigned the same family member, then we would never be apart!”
Pauline’s tone gave away how much the prospect of the charade excited her; Lin laughed softly in response to her overzealous nature. Lin tried her best to not let her well-developed cynical outlook dim Pauline’s light.
“That is way too unlikely. I think we should go for kitchen staff, I can cook well.”
Lin considered that out of everything there was to do in a palace, cooking all the time was the least unfortunate task to do.
“I cook for the tavern sometimes, so I could try out too!”
Pauline was clearly excited for the idea, but Lin needed to break her rule about not upsetting her.
“The food at the tavern is terrible,” Lin rushed to finish when she saw Pauline’s smile fall away. “Better than cooking for myself with no stove though!”
“Then teach me!”
Pauline’s tone bounced right back.
“The skill for me is more a product of necessity through my many years, rather than a brag-able trait.”
Lin floundered as she realized she knew nothing of this world’s food herself.
“I’ll grab a bunch of stuff from the market tomorrow, and we will figure everything out together. Then, I’m sure we will pass the test to cook for the royals!”
It was as if Pauline had read Lin’s mind, and Lin gave her a large smile.
“We got this; you’re right!”
Pauline came home
with the oddest assortment of vegetables, spices, and meats Lin had ever seen. It took them the entire night to identify them in the few cookbooks available. These were obtained at a small library. Apparently, all books were owned by the crown here, and they were strictly monitored. Checking them out was allowed though, and they studied together through the night, by a small fire back at the house. After they both woke up late the next day, was when the actual cooking started.
The kitchen was a disaster,
food was everywhere, and all at varying temperatures. Lin casted small preservation enchantments on the bowls once the food soaked into the wood a bit, in order to hold the enchantment well. This was Pauline’s favorite part, and Lin made it a spectacle for her sake, even though the flair added nothing to the casting of the spell what-so-ever. They concluded, well into the next day, that they had figured at least one way to cook, and one fact about each type of food they encountered. Lin’s general knowledge came in handy a fair amount, and that built up her confidence.
They distributed the food
around the town to those clearly homeless and in need of a meal. The enchantments and the coverings preserved the food perfectly at a warm temperature, so when found they were noticeably fresh. They knew their food was not the best, but it was unanimously decided that the food was not to be wasted. Lin was able to deliver hers all by stealth in a timely manner, and was surprised to find that Pauline already was at the dwelling.
“How did you beat me back?”
Lin laughed as she entered. She then noticed Pauline was shaken up a bit; she was sweaty, her hair was slightly ruffled, and her jacket was ripped a small amount at the sleeve’s shoulder’s seam.
Lin hurried over to her and indicated to the ripped sleeve. To her relief, Pauline laughed nervously before speaking.
“Just… one stop shopping, I guess?”
Lin did not get her joke at first, and Pauline laughed a little more confidently.
“I was robbed. By those we were trying to help. The sleeve is just what they had a grip on when they took all the food from me. I got two streets in,”
Pauline explained. She took off her jacket to look at the damage herself.
“Jeez, we shouldn’t have separated.”
Lin was confident that it was her fault.
“Not at all; I’m fine, and the food ultimately went to who we were giving it to in the first place.”
Pauline expounded, looking significantly less dazed than when Lin walked in. Lin shrugged, and accepted her calmer manner. They both readied their small amount of food and supplies for their trip, and went to bed for what was likely Lin’s last night in the tiny cottage. As homely as it was, Lin was already feeling the pull to move on. They were both eager for their new adventure, and did not get much sleep. The next day they set off on foot early in the morning, both ready for their three-week trek to the main castle.
Camping soon lost its charm
and the two girls would catch themselves complaining about a few things here and there. At one point they were bickering, when someone on a large horse-like creature pulling a cart stopped and offered them a ride. They accepted the courtesy, sat on the very back of the cart, and were both thankful for the miles they covered before they disembarked. Lin and Pauline had to hop off without asking the driver to stop, to not be led astray by his different itinerary. The rest of the way they encountered nothing but rude drivers, and other campers who kept to themselves.
Arriving in the royal city
was like entering a fairytale story, with the towering castle on a large hill, surrounded by a heavily colonized area. The castle was near the rear of the massive town, one you could see from miles away. This made the last leg of the trip interminable, but they reached the servant gate for the castle at dusk on the day that marked the last of their third week traveling. They were in fairly good shape upon arriving, if a little sweaty and probably smelling to an extent. They were allowed in, and were told to wait in a cold hallway, where the benches were made of stone.
After two hours
someone came rushing into the hallway, making plenty of noise that echoed off the bare walls. The lavish man halted in front of the two women, who had both managed to clean themselves up a bit. A lot of what the man perceived were enchantments Lin placed on their necklaces. The effects gave them a soft and younger look, accenting their features as light makeup would do, and making stray hairs invisible to give their hair a smoother appearance.
“Yeah, I got the time,”
the man snapped at the two of them, and they both stood up. He pointed to himself and began to march back down the hallway. The girls followed and came to the end of the hallway after a long, silent, and awkward walk. They entered a large kitchen that was also mostly made of stone. Rustic cooking apparatuses were meticulously organized along the opposing wall, and shelves covered the remaining walls of the room. Lin loved the charm it gave off, and was excited to figure out how to work the equipment.
“You will cook with those things in front of you. Make something I like and I will grant you the cooking duty you want. If not, I need a dishwasher and a few chamber pot maids.”
The man sat down and looked at them expectantly. Both girls looked at each other, took off their bags, and placed them to the side. They immediately started to discuss the matter at hand, but were cut off abruptly.
“No talking! I need to know what you can both do. Also, no cooking anything the same way, no mimicking.”
They went about their work silently and quickly. The ingredients were new to Lin, and none, other than the meat, were what they had worked with previously. Lin picked up an oddly shaped gourd and rapped her knuckles on the surface, listening. There was a small hollow sound. She felt confident that the inside was soft, so she cut at the top and exposed the soft insides. Digging everything out like she would a small pumpkin, she examined the insides and smelled them. She assumed they were edible, and she left the contents there to start the fires in her oven.
Magic was not known here
so, when Lin spoke enchantments to regulate both temperatures in the old stoves, no one paid her any mind. Lin separated the seeds from the guts of the gourd, washed them, and spread them out to dry. Returning to the soft mixture, she moved it to a bowl and rubbed the gourd with an oil she found and liked the smell of, then placed the shell in the oven to begin cooking. She wafted in all the spices available to choose from, and only selected the ones that seemed familiar to her. Putting a smaller amount of a larger assortment of spices in with the concoction, she finally moved to the meat provided.
Cutting the meat
into fine slices, she folded them into the stuffing of spices and gourd guts. She chopped a few more ingredients, added them, and combined with her hands. Lin then removed the shell from the oven and placed it on the cleaned and prepped stone countertop. Placing the insides back into the hot gourd, she then quickly returned the entire dish into the oven. After a short rest when she cleaned her surroundings a bit, and cooled off, she took a clean cloth and patted the seeds till they were completely dry. She scattered them across a flat cooking stone, placed them in the oven, and with a short enchantment she began cooking them at a lower temperature.
Presentation is the best
way to win over any judge when it comes to cooking. If you know what you are doing you will cook well enough as far as taste is concerned, but you must make it look appealing to food critics, to really win them over. Lin’s biggest fear was that some part of the food was not edible. She could not really see Pauline from her station, and tried not to look in her direction after their first correction. When Lin started to smell a slight burning, she rushed over to her oven and looked in on her meal. The outside skin of the squash had crisped up and was just now starting to turn black in some small spots. Lin applauded her good sense, as she pulled her dish out and set it out to cool. A brilliant array of scents filled the room.
the room was filled with a completely different aroma, and Lin realized the burning she had noticed before was not from the perfectly crisp skin of her creation, but rather the very burnt product that Pauline produced. The acrid smell clouded the room, making the man cough while he watched Pauline slowly crumble under the pressure of the test. When Lin was told to bring her dish to him, she retrieved the seeds and presented them in a small container.
The man immediately
dumped the toasted seeds into the shell and began to eat. He ate from every part of the dish, and Lin was satisfied the entire plant was safe to eat. She casted an enchantment to remove the burnt smell from the room completely. Lin turned to Pauline and gave her a sympathetic look. She almost laughed when she tried to fake a frown. The crispy outer layer of the vegetable crumbled under pressure yet sustained its crispy texture. The insides maintained their integrity and had not turned into a soup. The sight made both girl’s stomachs growl, but they waited patiently for him to finish his dinner.
“I’m not eating that,”
their judge said, pointing at Pauline’s melted entrée once he had eaten Lin’s entire presentation. Lin tried not to laugh nervously because she was now scared they would be separated.
“I respect that, sir,”
Pauline spoke quickly.
“Alright, well your area is perfectly clean, and you are clearly a brilliant chef. You, burned girl, my new dishwasher. You, blue, are a chef, clearly, you start now. Share the room out that door there, down four doors on the left. You will be called on if we need you between now and four in the morning, when you and the other cooks start breakfast.”
With that, the man left the room. The girls both laughed.
“I think that’s for the best. Lucky break.”
Pauline stuck her finger into the food to see if it was too hot to throw away.
“Lucky indeed. What did you do to that poor dish there?”
Lin asked, genuinely curious.
“I took the guts and wrapped them around the whole piece of meat and other ingredients.”
Pauline sighed, and slowly slid her dish over to the trash can at the edge of the counter til it fell in.
“Not going to wash that dish?”
“No, there is no saving it. I’ll even replace it personally.”
Pauline looked in the trash to make sure it was not going to smoke, and that she was safe to leave it alone.
“How did you know every part of that gourd was edible, because that is rarely the case with the food I know.”
Pauline questioned, to distract them from her melted dish.
“I didn’t, I put the seeds off to the side just in case.”
Lin explained with a gesture to the small dish they were presented in.
“What would you have done if he still claimed you tried to poison him with some part?”
Pauline pressed on as she began to clean Lin’s side of the Kitchen.
“That it was there for smell. We got lucky, that’s all that matters,”
with that the girls went to find their room. To no one’s surprise, there were two other women in the room. Both were wide awake, so they entered into good introductions before everyone went to bed. The next day, it was rather easy to fall into the routine, and into step with the workers who were already there. Despite some organization issues, they were already very efficient, so Lin and Pauline both found their roles more about fitting in rather than running or leading. They listened well and did what was asked of them every time.
“Today, the prince was struggling with his alphabet and I kinda helped him.”
This was the first act of kindness displayed since their arrival. They were after the true nature of the royal family, so this was the first big breakthrough they had. Pauline continued to teach the young prince in private. The culture of receiving help was so bad in this society, that the prince hid the lessons under the guise of direct tasks asked of the dish maid. They learned that the young prince was exceedingly kind to Pauline in private, as she was to him earnestly. This was not a trait any of them had encountered elsewhere in the castle for the first six months’ time.
“Here, I think you both should have something for working so hard. Thanks for six months of help.”
Their roommates gave them each a new apron to replace the cheap, stained ones they had to use from the castle. The gesture was graciously received, and even a few smiles were exchanged for the first time. This was never spoken of by anyone in the next few months, but it did get a little easier to co-exist with those around them slowly. By this point, the prince was considered a prodigy for the level of intelligence at as young of an age as he was. The ten-year old’s secret was merely a good, private, and kind teacher.
Their room became a home
over the weeks, and everyone fully respected their own space and kept it clean. They maintained boundaries and anything within those boundaries unconditionally. This is when the second royal family member, a cousin, was caught by Lin being kind. A small, nervous servant spilled an inconsequential amount of something on a complicated looking dress the noble was wearing. She collapsed in anticipation of being scorned, but instead the noble girl looked back and forth, and not seeing Lin around the corner, she tore the stained portion of her dress off and handed it to the anxious servant.
“No one will know now. Hurry along, please,”
the noble spoke low, and Lin would not have heard the words if she were not always equipped with enchantments of useful manner, like amplifying sound on demand. Lin was sure to let the hallway clear before she brought the news to Pauline. They continued to delve deeper into the royal family and found a lot of evidence of very cruel crimes, but they always traced them back to a select handful of people, rather than the entire family. Lin also realized the meanest nobles were the most powerful, and highest ranking. These were the ones she only came to know because she would present what she cooked for them, and would have to remain through the meal so she could be killed if the royal was poisoned.
Lin happily presented most of meals
because she could not die. She feared little anymore, not even solitude, and had faced many challenging obstacles. Still, she lives on to forget things eventually, unless recorded magically. Years ended up passing, and Pauline had pulled away a little from Lin, but for good reasons, since she started to see one of the older princes. There were so many that Lin had no idea which one Pauline was always pointing out in the gaggle of princes, and their relatives.
Everyone prepared for weeks
for a huge birthday bash for one of the more odious, older teenage princesses. None of the family ever moved out of the massive castle, yet it was hard to keep track of them, their new wives’, and the hordes of children. Pauline grew more stressed the closer the birthday feast got, and Lin figured out why as it approached. Finally, Pauline showed Lin a threatening letter from someone in the royal family. It said if she told the prince about it, then she would regret it at the party. The prince she was fraternizing with came upon her as she was reading the letter for the first time, and immediately snatched the threatening note.
The night of the party
was a cold one, and Lin had to cast a warming spell in the dance hall to keep it warm. She also had to monitor the food on the floor. Pauline was in and out of the kitchen delivering things from the chefs inside, who cooked continuously. Lin kept an eye out for anything suspicious, and it was not too long before she spotted a yellow glass container in the hand of the birthday girl, that she did not have before. She was making her way to Pauline setting up food on the other side of the room from Lin. She was not going to make it there before the princess would reach Pauline.
“You are not worthy, maid!”
The princess threw the thick glass container at Pauline and her screams were heard loud enough to silence the music. Pauline’s face was burning from acid that had been contained in the glass bottle, and Lin immediately struck for the princess’s face in revenge. Lin was sure not a single soul in the massive ballroom expected someone to jump at the princess and to roundhouse kick her in the jaw. Lin was also sure they had never seen a more agile fighting style within any of their lifetimes.
The princess’s face slammed into the floor
like a concrete slab, the momentum dragging her along for a short distance before the noble’s body came to a complete stop. A few people laughed at the scene, others were astounded, and some rushed to help the royal. Lin knew the princess was knocked out cold and would be perfectly fine, in a few months, after the broken jaw healed. Both Lin and Pauline were immediately beaten, dragged into a dungeon cell, and left there for over two days before someone brought them any food. Lin could not escape with the tools she had due to the guards stripping them of everything except their gowns.
Pauline healed quickly
and was happy that Lin defended her, though, she was terrified of the result of their actions. Pauline spoke about the prince once she could talk comfortably enough, told her how they had done several impressively romantic things, and Lin was warmed by the positivity she still held for the prince after all this. Lin knew she was going to be fine, but did not want anything to happen to her friend. Lin searched the floor of the dirty cell for anything that might hold an enchantment. She had no luck, and they had to wait.
On their sixth day
there was a ruckus in the hallway outside of their cell. Lin positioned herself in front of Pauline in case this was the guards taking them to their executions. The person outside of their door handled the keys for a while before opening it slowly. A face poked around the door and looked for the women quickly. When they spotted them, a different boy burst into the room. This was the young prince that Pauline had befriended in her time here.
“Pauline! We have come to rescue you and your friend!”
The boy was excited and pulled both Lin and Pauline towards the door.
“You came for me!”
Pauline was clearly smitten with the act, and Lin had to push her towards the prince so she could thank him with a hug and kiss.
“We will be going deep into the south; I will be starting a revolt against my cruel family. My eyes are open to the amount of kindness that exists around me. I am unsure how we got this way,”
the young prince sighed deeply and did not move to leave yet.
“Well, I can take a guess. Your main temple, where you all go to practice religion, is a wrecked colony spaceship from hundreds of years ago. The tech broke in the crash and your scientists died off before they could record all their information. Slowly, the intelligence dwindled and the power hungry took over under the guise of saviors. Not the first isolated society I have been across, but it is by far the most barbaric civilization I have ever experienced.”
Lin finished resolute, and the princes led them away from the castle where they safely escaped to the south.