The messenger arrived hours ago. But the first barely visible lights of King Frederick's entourage were only just marking the horizon as the King and his triumphant soldiers approached the kingdom. Their speed was steady and resolute and the castle itself seemed to quake with anticipation.
The preparations started immediately after the messenger first arrived, and had continued well into the evening. The fires in the dining hall were lit; meat turning on their spits by the many kitchen boys whose fingers quickly blackened from the soot. The heavy smell of cooked meat permeated the entire castle, from the lowest dungeons to the highest towers.
The house maids scattered herbs and sundry flowers underneath the long tables in the great hall, so that once crushed under foot the scent would waft up at the King's guests. The commotion within the castle had been deafening at times, but Brynhild, at ease in her solitude, kept to her tasks. First she pulled the necessary ingredients up from the garden, gathering handfuls of fennel and sage for the roasting pork. The onions in the garden were as big as her closed fist and she gathered as many as she could into a wicker basket for the boiling pot. Then Brynhild scored an ear of lettuce with her hunting knife until the leaves were as thin and small as eyelashes. She also crushed cinnamon and nutmeg into a marble mixing bowl and blended it into the pitchers of spiced wine. When she was finished she scattered lavender under her cot, and rubbed the remainder into her cupped hands, hoping that the smell would linger on her as the evening went on.
Only when the first battalions of wayward and homesick soldiers crossed the gate did she retreat to the Queen's chambers, swaddling the young princess in her arms. The sweet natured girl – the only daughter of King Frederick, whom Brynhild helped bring into the world a few short months ago - slept on without understanding the commotion of the household, or realizing that her father had, at last, come home.
"There now, little one," Brynhild cooed, laying the child down in the bassinet near the window. The King's rooms were in one of the highest towers in the castle and from her position Brynhild could see for miles into the inky blackness. She watched the long snake-like ranks of the King's soldier's bend over the hill coming out of the tree line and proceed in formal procession into the boarders of the kingdom.
The Princess didn't stir, as though she were in a dream that she hoped not to be released from. Her eyelids were as delicate as moth wings, and her tiny hand grasped onto Brynhild's fingertip. "My sweet one," she began to rock the bassinet, "My sweet darling… "