Vess knew she was in trouble the moment he set the damn crown on her head.
The lopsided painted wood squashed her braids, already mussed from her whirls around the tourney hall. Even with the hair falling over her eyes she spotted sharp attention from the box. Clothed in fine silks with real gold on their heads, the queen’s family watched as Vess struggled to pull the mess off her head.
“Our queen does not dance!” The fool who’d set that mess crowed. “We need a livelier one! This pretty thing will have to do.” He grabbed her wrist and spun her into the dance again, ignoring her spitting swearing.
Delly and Rose laughed shrieks of mirth as their own partners moved them around the makeshift floor. They were not alone in their delight, cheers of “Queen Vess!” and “Our Queen, quick on her feet, quick in the sheet!” flew up around the hall.
Vess wrested herself away and shoved the idiot hard. He fell on his backside and sprawled, giggling. A fresh round of cheers erupted and Vess glared yanking the painted crown from her head.
Drunk on the dance and of course the ever flowing drink not many noticed the queen’s family stand from there box and slip away in a flurry of servants. Vess watched them go her ire fading into unease.
Delly and Rose didn’t let her stand long, freed from their own whirling steps her friends threw arms around her shoulders chanting of Queen Vess and her lively steps.
The sky lightened to a deep purple as the tourney’s celebrations waned, the nobles retreating beyond their gilded gates and everyone else returning to their lives and work. Vess threw the painted crown into the river that morning.
The inn’s windows were yellow against the early morning dark when Vess slipped in through the back door and into an apron. Stick as many stupid things on her head as they’d like, she was still a kitchen girl and had to work if they wanted their breakfast.
With only the dogs to bother her it wasn’t long before the potatoes boiled and bread rose. The warm domestic smells and the crackle of the fire almost lulled her to sleep, half hunched over the cutting table. But then there was someone in the front.
Afraid it was William, she’d catch it from the innkeeper if he found her sleeping with a live flame going, Vess bounced to her feet and peaked out the door into the almost abandoned common room.
It wasn’t William, nor anyone staying upstairs. A young man with nut brown hair sat with his back to her, a deep green cloak about his shoulders. It was the fool, the idiot who set the ugly crown on her head and pulled her about the dance floor.
He set down his cup, presumably with their own stores inside and turned to her with a smile. “Well if it isn’t Queen Vess.”
“Don’t call me that.” She snapped.
“My queen, you are too humble.” His mouth widened and she could see all of his very white teeth. “And hospitable.” He raised the cup towards her.
“Git out.” She snarled. He wasn’t paying for anything, William wouldn’t complain if she knocked him on his backside for the second time tonight.
“Or not.” His smile persisted though it grew a mocking edge. “Rude, especially to someone about to do you a good turn. Oh Queen Vess, the life of a noble is a dangerous one. Your rival took note of your little stunt this night.”
Vess crossed her arms and glowered at him and then at the door.
“I’m trying to help you, she has knights, lands, servants and ships. All you have is a crown, potatoes and some very good ale.” He said.
“Don’t have a crown. Tossed it in the river. Leave stranger.” She commanded. The man was insane, she’d set the dogs on him if she needed to.
He clucked his tongue. “As the Queen commands. But they’ll be coming for you, you’re a pretty quick thing and your rival is jealous.” He bowed to her, his mop of hair flopping over his face in a way that made him rather good looking.
The stranger left, though not before draining his cup. Vess watched the door swing shut before going back to the kitchen.
The drunkards eventually emerged from their rooms demanding food. Even William was in a good mood, likely due to the influx of patrons with now lighter pockets. A morning of work did wonders to dull the unease in her stomach. The stranger was a fool, some madman talking of queens and rivals.
That’s what she thought until a trio of silver cloaked queen’s men strode into the the yard. Vess set bowl of potatoes down with a thunk, heart hammering against her chest. William stopped them at the door with his bulk. As his neck got red they just shook their helmed heads calmly, motioning for him to step aside.
Vess was out the back kitchen door before he did. With a loaf of bread under her arm and her favorite dog happily trotting at her heels she didn’t slow until she reached the king’s road, making good use of her quick feet.