This story is Alkari’s fault. She PM’d me a few weeks after the last post of Journey from Childhood
and asked me if the story was really finished. She thought I needed to include a peek into Jäna’s life after her return to Tehryn. That started the hamster running on the wheel in my brain, and this is the result.
As always, my thanks to Evie. Without her thoughtful editing and insight these stories would never see the light of day.
The Reluctant Chatelaine
Part 1 – The Flour of YouthTehryn Keep
Barony of Tehryn
Early spring, 1132
Jäna de Tehryn sighed as she waited in the screens passage near the main doors to Tehryn Keep’s great hall. Lady Livia was still adjusting her cloak, ensuring it draped appropriately over her shoulders to fall precisely above her shoes as it should. Jäna had little patience with all the fuss; they were only going to meet the steward at the storage room to check the grain supplies and the amount of flour on hand. Jäna would then advise Lady Amah on whether or not to grind more grain.
Jäna pushed back stray strands of dark auburn hair that had escaped from her braids. It was a fine spring day, the warmest since the winter thaw had begun. She was anxious to be outside in the bustle of people in the courtyard. There would be the servants, of course, and likely some tradesman from the town below the keep. There might be some of her father’s knights in the practice yard, exercising and honing their skills. She glanced back at Lady Livia, realizing that possibility explained the preening.
At seven years of age, Jäna wasn’t interested in preening yet. A comfortable riding gown and sturdy boots would have been fine enough to accompany her father that morning when he rode out to visit several of the holdings and check the conditions of the roads after the spring run-off. Unfortunately, Amah had firmly reminded her that she had other duties to attend to, so instead Jäna wore a serviceable beige gown and a cloak slightly shorter than it should be. Finery was not needed to check the manor’s supplies.
“Are you ready, Lady Jäna?” Lady Livia asked as she approached Jäna with a sweep of her cloak. Jäna looked up at her and nodded, resisting the temptation to continue her gaze heavenward and roll her emerald green eyes. It would have been a wasted effort on Lady Livia Gaston.
She did not see much of Lady Livia these days. When Jäna and her brothers had travelled to Rhemuth with their father for Twelfth Night Court, Lady Livia had accompanied her as her companion, since Amah had not been feeling well enough to go herself. Neglecting her duties to dally with a young knight in one of the castle’s corridors, she was partly responsible for the near abduction of her charge. Lady Livia had been very quiet on the return to Tehryn, and the young knight she had dallied with had been placed in charge of the pack horses rather than riding forward with his lord. Jäna had not been told exactly what had transpired when Lady Livia had reported to Amah shortly after they arrived, but Lady Amah Furstán d’Arjenol had not taken the situation lightly.
Lady Livia was no longer companion to the baron’s young daughter, though she had not been totally dismissed from service. She assisted Amah as required with sewing or other small household matters, only occasionally trusted to accompany Jäna on some household errands. Jäna had not seen Sir Cecil, the young knight, again. When she asked her father about him, the baron had curtly replied that he had been sent home to his father’s manor at least until the summer season. When her father used that tone of voice, Jäna knew not to ask more questions.
Lady Livia opened the heavy door, and Jäna preceded her across the covered porch and down the wide steps into the courtyard. The courtyard was as busy as she thought it would be, and for a moment she expected to see her identical twin brothers dashing out from the bustle to pull her into whatever activity they were involved in. The moment passed almost as soon as she thought of it. They were in Rhemuth, training as royal pages under Prince Nigel, and she, the lone female of the triplets, was back in Tehryn learning to be her father’s chatelaine.
Jäna pushed the ache aside and courteously acknowledged the respectful bows or curtseys from those she passed as she and Lady Livia circled around to the storerooms located beyond the large stone kitchen. Papa had told her with pride that it was unusual to have a kitchen built from stone, but stone brought up from the Tehryn mines had made it more practical than wood. They could have gone through the kitchen to reach the storerooms, but Amah had suggested it would be better not to disturb Master Cooke and the kitchen servants as they prepared the noon meal. Jäna had readily agreed, preferring the clear spring day to the hot kitchen.
A dark-haired man in the gold and black Tehryn livery stepped forward and bowed as they approached the storeroom door. Master Gregory Benton, the baron’s steward, was somewhere in his thirties and had recently succeeded his father in the position. He had a pleasant smile and was patient in explaining to Jäna why some things in the provisioning of Tehryn had to be as they were in spite of some of her suggestions. He always gave her ideas due consideration, never tossing them aside carelessly. Jäna liked him.
“Good morning, Lady Jäna,” he said as he straightened from his bow. “And Lady Livia.”
“Good morning, Master Gregory. It is much too nice a morning to spend in the storeroom,” Jäna replied.
“We won’t take any longer than we need to, My Lady,” Benton said with a smile. “But Lady Amah will be expecting a thorough inventory.” He pulled a key from his belt pouch, unlocked the door, and opened it wide. A large yellow cat that had been sitting unnoticed by the door scampered inside and disappeared behind one of the many barrels that lined the walls. Benton stepped aside for Jäna and Lady Livia to precede him into the storeroom.
It took a moment for Jäna’s eyes to adjust to the dimness inside. Small, barred windows let in just enough light to see, and Benton left the door open to light the interior more fully. He moved to the table in the middle of the room and set his satchel on it. After opening the satchel, he removed a parchment roll detailing the last measurements, a wax tablet he would use to record the new amounts, and a stylus. He then pulled a small three-legged stool out from under the table and placed it beside the first of the barrels. “Shall we start with the barley, Lady Jäna?”
Jäna nodded and accepted the arm he held out, so she could steady herself as she stepped up on the stool. She did not need the help, but politeness dictated that she should accept it. She watched as he unstrapped and removed the lid of the barrel, peering inside as he retrieved the measuring stick from the table and wiped it off with a cloth. Benton thrust one end into the barrel, tapping it soundly on the bottom to prove it was all the way down. Jäna confirmed the mark he indicated on the stick was correct and he recorded the measure on the tablet. He then helped Jäna down and moved the stool to the next barrel to repeat the process. Once they were finished with all the barrels, they would compare the new measures to the previous ones to report the consumption back to Amah. Lady Livia stood in the doorway and watched without interest.
Jäna and her father’s steward had worked their way around to the barrel that held the expensive white flour when an older girl appeared in the doorway and curtseyed. She wore an apron over her simple gown and a white coif over her hair.
“Beg pardon, Master Gregory. Master Cooke has sent me for more white flour.” She had a pleasant voice and a pretty face; Lady Livia looked at her disdainfully.
Benton motioned her forward. “We will measure again after she takes the flour she needs,” he said to Jäna.
The girl came forward and made another respectful curtsey to Jäna. Jäna nodded, smiled, and stepped down from the stool to give the girl more room. She watched as the girl removed a large scoop from the wooden bowl she carried and reached into the barrel to carefully fill the bowl with the flour.
As the girl was adding a final scoop of flour to the bowl, Jäna thought she heard a scratching sound and bent down to get a better look at the floor behind the barrel. Suddenly, a big, brown rat ran from behind the barrel, followed by the larger yellow cat. Lady Livia screamed and Jäna, more startled by the shriek than the rat, straightened quickly. The equally startled kitchen girl turned more quickly than she had intended from the barrel, and Jäna’s head hit the bottom of the bowl, throwing a part of its contents into the air. The girl drew the bowl back quickly, and a shower of fine white flour descended on Jäna’s head, shoulders and cloak.
For a moment, no one moved, then Lady Livia stepped forwarded. “You careless girl! Look at all the flour you have spilled.”
“Lady Jäna, are you all right?” Master Gregory asked in alarm.
“Oh, M’Lady, I am so sorry! I had no idea you were underneath!” The kitchen girl’s face was as white as the flour that remained in the bowl.
“Look at all this spilled flour,” Lady Livia demanded, pointing in the general direction of Jäna’s feet. “This will come out of your wages!”
Jäna held up both arms, one palm facing Lady Livia and the other facing Master Gregory. “It’s not for you to decide, Lady Livia,” she said sternly. “It’s not the girl’s fault. You are the one who screamed!”
“But there was a rat, Lady Jäna!”
“You were clear across the room, Lady Livia. It was not necessary.” Jäna lowered her arms and resisted the desire to dust off her cloak. She looked at the flour on the floor of the storehouse. “There’s not that much spilled.” She looked up at the girl and asked, “This would have been used for tonight’s bread?”
“Y-yes, M’Lady,” the girl stammered. “I’ll have to add more, or there won’t be enough.”
“White flour is expensive,” Lady Livia stated. “Lady Amah won’t be pleased.”
Jäna narrowed her eyes at Lady Livia and then looked toward Master Gregory. “We have a good supply of spelt. We could make up the difference with that.”
“Yes, we could, Lady Jäna, but am not sure Baron Jerrill will like his bread as well if we do,” he replied carefully.
“If Master Cooke serves it with the honey butter Papa likes, I doubt that he will notice or care if he does. There was a good supply of it the day before yesterday.”
“There still is, M’Lady,” the girl said hopefully.
“Then please tell Master Cooke that I have directed you to add the spelt, and he is to serve the bread with the honey butter this evening.”
“Oh yes, M’Lady, I will tell him directly!” Carefully the kitchen girl added spelt flour from another barrel, and, with a curtsey, hastily left.
“What about the wasted flour?” Lady Livia asked, sounding none too pleased.
“There’s nothing to be done about it now, except to clean it up. There is no blame to lay – it just happened.”
“I most certainly agree, Lady Jäna,” Master Gregory said, looking pleased and trying hard not to smile too broadly at the thoroughly powdered chatelaine-in-training. “It’s best to find a positive solution in cases like this. I will see that this gets cleaned up. And perhaps I should look after the totals,” he gestured toward the table, “while you get cleaned up yourself?”
“Thank you, Master Gregory. Yes, I think that would be best.” Jäna turned toward the doorway and suddenly sneezed, causing a cloud of flour to rise up and settle on Lady Livia’s cloak.
Hastily, Lady Livia brushed the flour off the fabric. “Yes, I agree that would be best.”
As he bowed, Master Gregory said very quietly, “Well done, My Lady.”
Jäna smiled back at him and nodded. She paused at the door of the storeroom to look down at the yellow cat that was sitting just inside, a large dead rat hanging from its jaws, looking as if it was displaying its prize for her approval.
“Very well done indeed,” Jäna said to the cat as she left, while Lady Livia made a gagging noise and quickly followed her.