• The Prince’s Kiss by Kera Rusling
    Linda knelt by the fireplace, tucking a stray strand of fine, solid black hair behind her ear. A bitterly cold draft blew through the room, making her almost glad for the fire burning directly in her face. At that moment, the same cold draft that made her almost enjoy the blaze blew burning ashes into her face, and Linda remembered why she hated fire. The ashes burned her neck and it was all Linda could do to force herself not to stomp out the small fire. But she knew that if the nobles came and the fire was out, she would enjoy a very formidable talking to by either Johnny, or perhaps even the king himself, and so she let the fire continue to throw its ridiculously hot flames into the top of the brick fireplace. Sweeping the ashes from the front of the fireplace, she spat one last curse to the fire under her breath, and stood to go dump the ashes. As usual, there was no trash bin for servants’ trash, forcing Linda to rush outside behind the kitchen and throw the ashes out onto the dirt ground. The day was frigid, and, not sure how long she’d last out there in the cold, Linda jumped back through the door, dropping the dust pan that she’d swept the ashes into in it’s usual hiding place in the crack in the wall.

    The king would also be angry if his kitchen were kept dirty, and so no one would dare leave a dust pan lying in plain sight.
    The oven was, thankfully, kept heating all day by the amazing cook, Johnny. Pressing herself as close as she could to the oven, Linda soaked up the warmth like a baby does a bottle. On top of the stove sat a delicious smelling pot of some kind of appetizer soup, and she sucked in the vapors eagerly. Johnny was an unbelievably wonderful cook.
    “So, Johnny, what are you cooking?” she questioned in her slightly lilting voice.
    Shooting her a disbelieving look, the cook responded, “You think you’re getting some of this, girl? Stop dreaming. Your soup is on the table.”
    Linda grimaced as Johnny let out a small, amused laugh. Sighing, she walked over to the plain wooden table, and sat in her usual chair, the farthest from the stove, glaring at her usual lunch. Once again, the castle workers were going to be given the horrible, tasteless potato soup. The name was very fitting, seeing as the ingredients consisted of water, and chopped potatoes, every now and then with a bit of salt for flavor. Linda often wondered where they could possibly find so many potatoes. She wasn’t the best math student, but in her head, she counted 3 meals a day for about fifty castle workers. One hundred and fifty bowls of bland potato soup per day, that had to be at least one hundred potatoes a day. She didn’t even plan to try and figure out how many potatoes they used in a week, much less the seventeen years Linda had lived at the castle. It was much too large a sum for her brain to calculate on its own. Obviously a potato farmer could make a fortune selling potatoes to the castle. Regardless of where the ingredients came from, the soup was as unappetizing as ever, yet still she ate it, because the poor girl knew she had to eat something, or she would surely starve. At least that was the way it usually worked.
    “Johnny, will we ever get any real food?” Linda complained in a mopey, annoyed voice.
    Her surrogate father simply shook his head, and replied, “Linda, dear, you know we only get what we’re given, and this is what they’ve given us for seventeen years or more. I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon, darling.” Of course Linda had heard this answer many times before, but she could hope, couldn’t she?
    “Or what we take,” the maid muttered almost under her breath.
    “What was that, love?” Johnny asked distractedly, and then continued when he realized what she’d said. “Linda, I’d better not hear that you’re stealing again. You’re sixteen for gooodness’ sake, I don’t want to see you arrested.”
    Groaning, Linda argued, “Johnny, have I ever been arrested before? Look, it’s not like I steal from poor people. Those stupid nobles have plenty as it is...”
    Linda cut herself off as she saw the look Johnny was giving her, and she nodded reluctantly. That was a look that no one disobeyed, no matter how starving, and tired of the stupid flavorless soup they were.
    “Okay, Johnny,” she acquiesced. “No more stealing.” As he gave his almost daughter a skeptical look, she added, “I promise!”
    Nodding, he let the issue go. No matter how misguided, Linda was a good girl when she wanted to be, and she treated promises with the importance they deserved. He couldn’t recall even one instance when Linda had broken a promise to him, or anyone that he knew.
    The door to the kitchen burst open, and in waltzed the haughty, presumptuous court jester. As always, he strode with an overconfident swagger to the table, constantly looking down on everyone and laughing at their faults. Well, at least, that was how Linda would describe him, and she felt that her description was very accurate. It didn’t help that his carefully untidy black hair that fell over mischievous green eyes coupled with his very well carved body made him extremely good-looking.