(This is an excerpt/beginning sample of the published book, "The Opal and The Genie" by T.S. Lowe (me). It can be found on Readict.)
Hope, head royal chef, was concerned about her responsibility over the princess's behavior of late. That concern made her resort to desperate measures when she caught the princess in peasant drab, golden hair covered in a dirty rag, sneaking through the back door of the kitchens.
"Desperate measures" being to chuck a wad of dough at the princess with all her considerable strength.
Kyanna yelped as dough pancaked against the wall mere inches from her nose.
The other maids in the kitchen flinched, but they soon echoed that yelp on seeing the scullery maid in line for a violent scolding was none other than the crown princess.
"You thought I wouldn't notice you?" said Hope.
"I'm only going to watch the soldiers train again and didn't want to distract—"
"Like hell! Do I look like an idiot?"
"But you let me do it before—"
"And I regret it like a saint regrets murder. Get your ass back to your room—pah, no, I'll drag you back to your room myself and beat some sense into Baltra for not following you. Penny, take over for me."
Said cook nodded and took Hope's place as Hope flung off her apron.
Kyanna pulled at the handkerchief on her head with a loud "ugh" and threw it on the floor, releasing a few strands of blonde hair. She looked nearly as red as the cook.
"I'm not a damn child! I don't need to be followed—"
"—don't you swear at me—"
"—don't you swear at me! I'm the princess!"
"Start acting like one and I'll do so! Until then, march! Your! Ass! UP!"
"I don't even get why you're so angry. I can dress how I want!"
Three out of the four cook hands watched the exchange with their jaws dropped, faces pale. Only one, an old spinster who'd seen it all before, managed a curtsy in the direction of the princess as she passed by, harped forward by the angry, flour-powdered hands of the beefy cook behind her.
It was only once they were through the secret door that led up the servants' path and clearly alone that cook finally laid down her trump card.
"I know you're sneaking out to see that squire boy."
Unbecoming pink blotches rose to Kyanna's face and neck.
"Don't give me that look," the cook snapped. "You think you're so sneaky, but I have eyes all over the palace. The hand that feeds the world moves it."
Kyanna scowled. "Eyes all over the palace, my ass. You only have six and they're all just scared of their mommy."
"The hand that rocks the cradle moves the world, as well. My boys are good kids, unlike you, brat."
"Then why don't they be the princess if they're so great?"
"And wouldn't that be nice? They'd do twice a better job than you in their sleep! Only an imbecile would have dumped shit on the Duke of Bettingham's—"
"—he asked for it–"
"—NO MATTER WHAT THE HELL HE DID! You're a diplomat, not a gods-damn Soan! Though better that than a whore after some too-old squire."
Kyanna, who had just passed the first landing of the servants' stairs, froze.
"You heard me," puffed Hope.
"I've done no such thing."
"It doesn't matter. You even give the chance for it to happen and others will assume it has. That's what all these 'rules of propriety' that you abhor protect you from."
"That's nonsense! My chastity is intact and no stupid rumor is going to change that."
"You silly girl! Rumor is all it takes when you're a princess!" She took hold of Kyanna's shoulders and pushed her forward. "Now march! Once you're dressed, we're seeing the king."
"No!" For the first time, dismay broke through Kyanna's angry tone as she was clumsily forced up the narrow steps. "Please, don't tell him!"
"It's for your own good."
"But ... but ... Hope, if you tell him, I'll never trust you with my secrets again!"
"And I'll gladly throw that away if it means your welfare."
Kyanna snorted. "You mean my marriage to whatever foreign country coughs up a good enough prince."
Hope smacked her rear, earning another yelp from Kyanna. The cook knew it was low, but she was beyond angry, and the seventeen-year-old girl was asking for it by acting like a child.
"Besides the obvious fact that whoever marries you will be king, not that you care, never discount the importance of a good marriage. Marriage is either heaven or hell and rarely in between."
Kyanna fell silent, her brow furrowed. She didn't speak until they'd reached the third landing and branched off to the slip of a door that would lead to her room.
"I do care," she said, with a quiet, morose sort of indignation.
Hope opened the door for her and pulled back the tapestry behind it. "About what, pray tell?"
They entered the princess's opulent quarters, where intricately carved ceiling molds and gold-leafed wallpaper somewhat contrasted with ratty cooking books, mediocre paintings of gypsies, and a simple rocking chair that could have belonged to an old farm wife. The patchwork quilt on the four poster bed didn't help, even if the squares were of the finest silks and satins. Several of Kyanna's more refined dresses had been lost to that particular project of her youth.
"About my nation," said Kyanna as she stepped in. "That's why I poured manure on the duke's head in the first place. I wanted everyone to see him for who he really is: shit. Do you know what he does to his serving maids?"
"And him smelling like a horse's ass does what to fix that? Besides make him royally furious and apt to do even more to the maids."
Kyanna's hands fisted. "And I do too care who will be king," she said with further flushed cheeks. "Jeremy is very smart, kind, and better at dealing with idiots than I am, for certain."
Hope gave the princess a look as flat as new parchment.
Kyanna fidgeted. "Of course there's more to him than that."
"I'm sure there is," said Hope in a tone that said she highly doubted it. "I hope you grow out of this idiocy, Princess—"
"I'm not an idiot!"
"—because it takes a lot more than 'niceness' and 'dealing with idiots' to be king."
"I know that! I said there was more to him than that! I'm the one who's studied about politics and how to run a nation for most of my life, not you!"
"Could have fooled me," Hope waddled to the water basin and set to work washing the flour off her hands and arms. "Now strip."
With a closed-mouth scream of frustration, Kyanna stomped to her ebony wood wardrobe, threw out the first dress she laid hands on, and slammed the beautifully carved double doors shut.
"That wardrobe has survived five generations, princess. It'd be a shame to end with you."
Kyanna didn't respond to that and instead focused on taking off her peasant garb as violently as possible. The angry blotches on her cheeks clashed with her white undergarments.
As Hope's hands got to work doing up buttons and twining up hair, she learned the absence of maids was also due to the mischief of the princess, who had managed to rearrange their schedule so she'd have a whole hour to herself, unaccompanied. The hot tension which had been birthed in her bosom on hearing her eldest's report on the princess's rendezvous only tightened.
'What have I done?' she couldn't help thinking for the upteenth time.
Everyone had been against the Queen's decision to have Hope as Kyanna's nursemaid when she'd found herself unable to produce milk. Nursemaids were often chosen from the common rabble in other countries, but in Karpathia nursing was considered an important bonding time and crucial to the emotional well-being of the child. Thus, nursemaids were often picked from the family. But rather than choose her sister-in-law or any of her cousins, she'd picked the cook, a woman well known throughout the castle by the serving hands to be a force to reckon with. Her no-nonsense, loud personality clashed with her fiercely conservative principles. Her three sons feared and obeyed her above all others, and even the new staff followed suit almost instinctively.
Forget her common blood, surely this fierce giant of a woman who'd only raised boys would have too harsh of an influence on a gentle little princess. Was the Queen even aware of the attachment her daughter may have with this woman?
And yet, as though through prophetic instinct, from the moment Kyanna could walk she proved to be anything other than delicate. Perhaps it was Hope's thick milk which had fed her large, fat baby boys, for Kyanna grew just as healthy and sturdy, hitting the palace like a crashing boulder.
No one argued the Queen's choice when Hope turned out to be the only other being besides her parents that the little princess paid any heed to.
Even so, Hope had hoped Kyanna had grown out of it when she approached womanhood.
"Stop sighing like that."
Kyanna's pouting voice broke Hope from her reverie. Smooth, gold locks twined about the cook's fat fingers.
"Like I'm some kind of disappointment. It's not wrong to love someone."
Hope rolled her eyes and tapped the girl's head with two fingers. "No. But there is a point where you choose to give up yourself completely, and you can't afford that until the decision is final. Love can blind you, if you let it. And please trust that I do know what I'm talking about. You know I wouldn't say any of this unless it was for your own happiness."
Kyanna turned her head, tugging a small braid out of place. "What happiness is there for me if I'm only marrying for everyone else?"
"Oh, hush. The goal is for you and everyone else to be happy. Stop trying to play the 'poor me, I have no freedom to love' card, the squire brat's still a no."
"You don't even know him."
"Darling, I know everyone."
Kyanna blew up hard at a lone hair on her forehead, but said nothing, brow still furrowed in the mirror.
Little did she know that, after seventeen years of endurance, Jeremy would be the breaking point for her father.