Sven sat humming tunelessly upon his wooden bench. His plump hands and arms were completely coated in a flour dust from kneading a massive slab of dough that now lay on a side counter. He had moved on to the next task of hammering a sugar cone into powder, while from the oven came the mouthwatering smell of plums baking.
His half-brother Olaf was standing with blackened, muscular hands on his hips and considered the confectioner frowning skeptically. “You’re sure we have enough stores for you to make this for the whole garrison? It’s not as though it’s necessary.”
“Not necessary?” Sven asked, looking over his shoulder at his younger brother. “Of course, it’s necessary! You know as well as I do how Lady Bella loves her sweets! Why, they’re the only indulgence she allows herself, poor girl. She needs cheering up after all that’s happened.”
Olaf grumbled inarticulately before remarking, “Well, Lady Bella may need something special right now, but that’s no reason to feed the whole garrison twice over.”
“Bah!” Sven dismissed the complaint. “This will just barely feed everyone, but you know as well as I do that Lady Bella won’t take a bite of anything, unless she’s sure the men of the garrison are getting it too. No special privileges, she says. Besides there’s no point letting the plums rot, and plum pudding is traditional in this house on St. Nicholas.”
“It may be traditional, but we’ve never been under siege at St. Nicholas before,” Olaf growled.
“Which only makes it more important,” Sven insisted complacently, “It’s called keeping up morale, Olaf. We’ve got to keep up morale.”
“Morale is going to be much worse if we’ve got nothing to eat one of these days!”
“Not a chance. We’ve got stores of flour and sugar to last two years or more. As for butter, we’ve got six dairy cows and the hay to feed them too. So, stop sticking your nose in other people’s business and just make sure the garrison has the arms it needs to fight off the Emperor’s men if they come clambering up the walls one of these days,” Sven told his younger brother as he dramatically smashed the tip of the sugar cone with his little hammer.
Olaf threw up his hands. “We’ve got arrows and crossbow bolts coming out of our ears! Ever since the Emperor demanded that he surrender Beirut, Lord John urged me to stock up on arms. The armory is filled to overflowing. We’ve even got extra swords, axes, and lances, though God knows who’s to use them—unless we start teaching the kitchen and stable boys to fight like knights! Or better yet, Lady Bella!”
Sven laughed at that. He didn’t doubt Bella’s determination to hold on to the citadel, but she wasn’t the kind of female who wanted to don men’s clothing and take up a weapon.
His brother complained, however, “I wish we could at least talk her into wearing a hauberk. That tower Filangieri’s building at Chaufor will be able to fling missiles into the outer ward, and I’m afraid they may have one or two sharpshooters among them that will take potshots at us as well. We’ll be at the outer edge of their range, but without any kind of armor, Lady Bella could still be mortally wounded—particularly since she insists on inspecting every single sentry three times a day. I’ve made a fine hauberk that would fit her, but she refuses to even try it on. Says it’s ‘unbefitting a future nun.’”
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