Breakfast of Fools
Dawn awoke to the sound of sleet pelting the windows of her bedroom. The sun, if it had even risen, was hidden behind great gray clouds. This, Dawn realized, would not be a day for any outdoor adventures. She quickly stripped herself of her wrinkled clothing from the day before and rummaged through her wardrobe for a new outfit. She selected a pair of warm trousers, a thick woolen tunic, and a long overcoat of felted velvet. When she had fully dressed she raced from her room, anxious to gobble down breakfast and surge through her lessons. She could not wait to return to helping Mel with her work.
The castle beyond the Princess’ tower had grown uncomfortably cold throughout the night. As Dawn walked through the richly decorated passages, she found many dressed in heavy, knit sweaters and long, thick cloaks. She curtsied gracefully to a nobleman that she did not recognize and was immediately reminded of why she preferred the more secreted routes throughout her home. When she was out here, walking the halls with the other lords and ladies, curtsying politely and holding boring and pointless conversation about the weather, she was required to be Princess Dawn, heir to the throne; an absolutely perfect representation of poise and politeness.
But when she ran through the castle walls, bustling with the unseen servants and countless cooks and cleaners, she could be free. She loved the feeling of running hall to hall, invisible to all but the other invisibles, here one moment and gone the next. The Princess had learned the routes so well, in fact, that when she ran into a lost maid or servant she would, more often than not, stop and help them get to where they needed to be.
After several more curtsies and one tedious talk outlining the day’s frigid sleet compared to the snow of the past five winters, Dawn ducked out of the main halls and ran the rest of the way to the kitchen far below. She arrived just in time to see a particularly portly cook removing a fresh tray of cinnamon rolls from an oven. He placed them down delicately next to the rest of the feast to be served that morning.
There were great platters of bacon, two steaming bowls of heavily sugared cream of wheat, an entire honey and pineapple ham, twelve different pitchers of assorted juices, and one very lovely vase full of holly and winter berries.
“Morning, Your Highness,” The cook said, placing himself deliberately between Dawn and the fresh pastries. “Breakfast will be up in ten minutes. No sampling before then.”
“Need any help?” Dawn inquired, smiling innocently. The smell from the table was delicious, making it very difficult for her to keep her mouth from watering at the edges.
“No, I don’t think I will,” the cook replied, spreading his enormous form just a little wider.
“He’s positive,” a third voice, vastly different from Dawn or the cook, spoke into the kitchen. “And if your mother saw you plotting to steal food from your own kitchen she would be beside herself with rage.”
The cook turned hastily back to his rolls and Dawn gulped. Standing in the back of the kitchen, unseen until now, stood Izora Bladis, mother of Eryn Bladis and Knight Commander of the entire kingdom’s military forces.
“Good morning, Lady Bladis,” Dawn said, careful not to remove her eyes from the scowling knight before her.
“Don’t ‘Lady’ me, Ambrose,” Izora spat. “I am no noble. You will call me ‘Sir Knight’ or ‘Ma’am’. Are we clear?”
Dawn swallowed hard and, choosing not to comment on calling the lady knight ‘sir’, nodded her agreement.
“And don’t swing your head like an apple in the wind! If I ask a question, I expect you to speak your answer. Are we clear?”
“Good,” Izora finished. Her face became less threatening but retained its still very stern appearance. “Her Majesty has sent me to collect you for breakfast. You will follow me now.”
Dawn did as she was told and followed Eryn’s mother out of the kitchen and back up into the palace halls. She was used to the Knight Commander’s lack of formality when dealing with anyone less than the King and Queen, and was relieved when the worst she received was a silent march beside the intimidating woman. A few of the braver nobles stopped and mumbled their respects as the pair passed, but sir Bladis did nothing to even indicate she had heard them.
After what seemed to be hours, Dawn and Sir Bladis arrived in the dining room and sat in their chairs. The Knight Commander sat directly on the right hand of the Queen, and Dawn sat in the middle of the forty foot long table, her mother and father seated across from one another at either end. At least fifty men and women were present. Members of the kingdom’s council, as well as their families, sat quietly beside several barons and baronesses, all apparently waiting for the new arrivals to settle into their seats. Before anyone could bid them any sort of welcome, servants spilled forth from the recesses of the room carrying the great platters Dawn had seen just awhile before in the kitchens below. When all the food had arrived, and was arranged neatly before the royals and their guests, the Queen rose and spoke.
“Before we begin, I have a few announcements.”
A few of the larger nobles shifted in their seats impatiently, but no one spoke. The Queen continued.
“It is my great honor to welcome Malera Tatelin Briar to the council. She will be inhabiting the newly formed seat of Chief Medical Examiner.”
The hall rang with polite applause, coupled with a few quiet, curious whispers. Mel, who was sitting four places to the left of Dawn, stood and waved nervously.
“My friends, we are facing a serious dilemma,” the Queen announced, her words weighted by an edge of sorrow. “We have, as of this morning, fourteen cases of the sleeping scourge. This represents a full doubling of the total infected in just one evening.”
A few more murmurs ran through the crowd whilst several pairs of eyes flicked curiously toward the girl many had just learned was their first ever Chief Medical Examiner. Dawn was too preoccupied to listen to the new wave of whispers. Seven more cases in one night? It sounded like Mel was going to need all the help she could get if they were going to solve this problem before the whole kingdom was sleeping toward their doom. She silently wondered how Mel would feel about taking on a second assistant. She was positive this would fit squarely within Eryn’s idea of duty.
“Hope, however, is not lost. I turn the floor over to your new Chief Medical Examiner.”
Mel rose, straightening her dress as the Queen retook her seat. She gave one slight tug on the braided white cord at her waist and began to speak. Dawn could almost see her heart beating in her chest.
“Um… go… good morning, ladies and lords and council members.” Mel began, her face white with fear and her hands twitching slightly with nerves. “It is a, um, great, um, really great honor to, uh, speak before you today.” She stole a glance at the Queen who had both of her thumbs raised and was smiling encouragingly.
“Right, um, I, too, am a victim of the sleeping sickness.”
The room gasped and a few of those assembled jumped to their feet, backing away.
“Oh! No! Not like that! I mean, my uncle, he’s ill with it! Not me!”
Most returned to their seats and settled back down, with only a few of the more nervous patrons maintaining their distance.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
“Get on with it, will you?” a plump, sallow faced man bellowed. His equally bulbous wife piped up right alongside him.
Several more of those gathered voiced their irritations, loudly inquiring where she had even come from or what authority she had to speak to them on such matters. The Queen began to stand but Dawn, who had not seen her mother rise, was up first. Her voice boomed out louder than all else.
“On the Queen’s authority, that’s what!” Dawn roared, answering the last insult she had heard spoken. The room fell quiet and Dawn looked to her mother. The Queen slowly returned to her chair, eyebrows raised, and gave a short nod. Every eye was fixed on the small Princess. Mel, who had looked absolutely miserable mere moments before, smiled weakly.
“What she was trying to say is that she has already seen this sickness in her own uncle,” Dawn continued, head held high. “And, if you need more than your Queen’s say so-” Dawn spat the words, challenging anyone to argue, “-she is also a fantastic physician! When I fell off my mother’s horse-” the room rumbled with dubious laughter, Dawn’s own mother the most boisterous of the crowd. Dawn, startled for a moment, let go of her final belief that there was at least someone who did not know her would-be secret.
“Oh fine then, when I jumped from my mother’s horse, Malera was the one who cared for me! She was the one who cleaned my wounds! And she is the reason I am alive today, so you all can just shut it!”
Dawn retook her seat with a thud, immediately regretting her final words. She quickly buried her head in her arms to hide her now blazing red cheeks. The room was quiet. The silence dragged on for what felt like an eternity. And then, all at once, the hall erupted in a roar of applause, laughter, and cheers. Dawn raised her head to find the King, the Queen, and everyone assembled beaming at her. That is, of course, everyone except the fat little noble and his wife, who were both rapidly disappearing from the hall, pale-faced and sweating.
“Well said, Princess!”
“Lively one, ain’t she?”
“Quite the set of lungs on that one, isn’t there?”
The King’s voice came to his daughter clearer than all else.
“Just like her mother!” King Ambrose boasted. “Couldn’t be prouder! Excellent Queen she’ll make, you can bet on that!”
Dawn’s embarrassment lifted and the assembly voiced their consent to hear their new Chief Medical Examiner out; right after breakfast. Plates were piled high with the veritable assortment of food before them and the hour passed in pleasant conversation. The Princess helped herself to second and third helpings, eagerly awaiting the moment Mel would speak again.
But Dawn would not get to hear whatever Mel was planning to say. Before the Princess could put together a fourth helping, Lord Felmont appeared at her side, kindly informing her that it was now time for their lessons. Dawn made an attempt to argue, leaving only when Lord Felmont asked whether they needed to involve Her Majesty in their discussion. With the threat of her mother’s wrath lingering above her, Dawn surrendered and followed the old sorcerer from the hall.