Baking Scene Blogfest – Steam Palace
Thanks to Charity Bradford for hosting the “50 Followers Baking Blogfest”. The idea is to show a scene where your MC bakes something. Well, I have this scene where they aren’t exactly baking, but since it’s the only cooking scene in the whole novel I figure I’ll run with it.
Also, don’t forget that the Bad Girl Blogfest hosted on this blog is this Friday, May 7!
I feel I need to issue a small warning before posting this scene. I don’t want it to be offensive to anyone, but it does depict a bit of racism that’s inherent in the time/place of the novel. I know that’s a sensitive subject for people, so hopefully this doesn’t offend.
This is a scene from Steam Palace. Now a bit of background. Sophia was on her way to court Duke Dunstan when a hostile airship descended and captured her. She’s been held for a little while without explanation, but she does know that this is a royal flagship and her King might be aboard. The King and the Duke are deep rivals with opposing plans for the future of their country.
The officer ordered Sophia onto a stool and closed the door behind him, leaving her alone in the airship’s galley. She fingered the ruffles of her dress in nervous dread. Why place her here? Countless accouterments of cooking covered every available spot. Dried herbs hung from the ceiling alongside copper pots. Latched cabinets doubtless stored the bulk of the apparatus. An icebox dripped in the corner. Sophia’s stomach rumbled. A towering, coal-dark woman entered and glanced at Sophia with white-and-black eyes, obviously the ship’s cook slave, judging from her simple white tunic and blue cotton work pants. She pulled an apron off the wall and tied it on, then threw another at Sophia.
“Go on, put it on, child,” said the woman in a heavy Southland accent. “Dinner ain’t gonna fix itself now.”
Did a galley slave just command a woman suited by the Duke Himself to help her cook? Sophia considered the stained apron in her hands. This couldn’t stand. She had her pride. “I may be a prisoner upon this vessel, but I shall not take orders from you.” She tossed the apron on the ground.
The woman heaved a sigh. She tied her long curly black hair into a bun. “Suit yourself. That don’t confront me none ‘cept I figure you wanna eat sometime.”
The impertinence of the slave! The woman pulled a copper pot out of a cabinet and measured in some rice and beans. She filled the pot with water from a jug, then slid some levers under the cooking surface. “We can’t have no open flame in here,” she said, “so we just have this here closed boiler. Enough to heat water but not to cook nothing proper-like.” She fingered through cupboards and threw in spices. In no time the savory scent tingled Sophia’s nostrils and teased her stomach. “You never had no Southland cooking before, child? You sure you won’t help me none? I’m all but famished.”
Sophia sighed. Was this why she was captured, to cook for an airship’s crew? “I do not work with Southies. I am a woman of culture, not some slave. Please inform your master that I am ill of sitting upon this stool for who knows what purpose. Why am I being held here?”
The woman stopped and eyed her, holding a knife. “Well. You ain’t being held, hon. You’re a guest of His Majesty. And he’s waiting for his dinner. Now you either scoot your chicken butt over here and help or he’ll be mighty perturbed. Would you now?”
Sophia clenched her fists. Well, there was a certain honor in cooking for King Sterling. “Very well.” She snatched the apron off the floor and tied it on. The slave directed her to procure various legumes and utensils, but she mostly stirred the pot, huffing under her breath.
“Oh, that smells delicious.” A man walked in, wrapped his arm around the woman, and kissed her neck. Sophia’s eyes went wide. It was King Sterling Himself, his face unmistakable with his royal whiskers and blue-and-red imperial uniform. Was her King taking liberties with the slave? She gasped. No, it’s couldn’t be…
Sophia dropped to the floor. “Your majesties! Please forgive me! I did not know!” The woman—she was no slave. She was her Queen.
“She done think I’m some servant I reckon,” said Queen Magnolia, “and called me a Southie! Why I—”
“I beg of you, had I known—” How could she cause such an affront to her regent? They should cast her off the bow. But a Queen, cooking her own meal? She covered her head with her arms.
The King extended a hand. “Stand up. We forgive you, provided you promise never to speak ill of Southlanders again. They are our dearest friends.”
Sophia’s guts leaped to her throat but she fought it down. “Please, your Majesties, allow me to throw myself from the railing for such an offense.” The King laughed and maintained his arm. She clasped him with a shaking hand and allowed him to lift her, then stared at her palm. Never in her life had she imagined she’d be face-to-face with her King—and to verily insult his wife—
“I am so sorry,” she said, tears flooding her eyes. Her chest shuddered.
Queen Magnolia waved her hand. “’Tis nothing. Leave her to me, sugar, dinner be ready in two shakes.” They kissed and the King departed.
Sophia stood with a bowed head, sniffling, ashamed of her own petulant arrogance.
“Child,” said the Queen. “Child! We gonna burn our dinner, come now. All’s forgiven.” Sophia reached for the spoon but kept sniffling, afraid any second that she would be dropped from the ship. The woman draped an arm around her shoulders, a warm, matronly hug. “Now you hush.” She knelt so they could see eye to eye. “Listen, sweetie, you ain’t the first. I’ve been called much worse. We Southlanders ain’t nothing what you been learnt. We’re a free, happy people. We ain’t got slaves, or kings, or nothing for over a hunnert years. I might be called a Queen but inside I’m just a woman like you. I love my husband with all my heart, and I’m learning to love this here land you call home. And I sure love to cook. I know you folks are big on manners, so then…would you please assist me with our meal preparation if you wouldn’t mind? I would sorely appreciate it.”
Sophia nodded, swallowed, and looked up her face. The woman was indeed beautiful in a strange dark way, with wide eyes, a flat nose, and impossible thick hair. Her luscious lips held a friendly smile, and her eyes portrayed no malice. Sophia understood why her King courted such an exotic beauty. “Yes, at once. It would be my honor.” Everything she heard about this woman, that she was a monstrous freak, a conniving tyrant, or a magical witch, all melted away. She was the most ordinary woman in the world…which made her the most extraordinary.
I just want to point out that Queen Magnolia is college-educated with an advanced degree, but she fell in love with the King when he was just a Prince studying abroad in her country. She has been universally hated every since they married, for no good reason except that people want to use her to dethrone the King, so they’ve fomented a lot of bigoted hate against her. The next scene is the actual meal where they press Sophia for access to the Duke’s secrets.
And yes, I totally have Gina Torres in mind when I think of Queen Magnolia. How could I not?