Winter: Chapter Nineteen – Winterising the Palace
As the stores beneath the palace began to accumulate under the watchful eye of Chef Marcelle, other preparations needed to be made to ensure the palace remained dry and warm in the coming rainy season.
The Queen was not looking forward to her first winter in her new home. She was a fairy who had lived for hundreds of years in almost year-round sunshine, where she could sit in a branch of her magnolia tree, soaking up the rays.
Of course she appreciated that, to maintain her beauty, she needed to take care not to get burnt, but with the fountain of youth to hand she was secure in the knowledge that her face was unlikely to ever wrinkle. She did not like rain in the slightest, and during their first year they had experienced the vagaries of the Irish weather system; which seemed to be the reverse of her native home, with 300 days of rain and 60 days of sunshine.
However, do not imagine for one minute that Queen Filigree was not grateful for the safety of her new abode or the wonderful people she had met. She couldn’t imagine not having the dear Storyteller in her life, and she would have never have met her dashingly handsome new husband, Prince Ronan. Still, the coming months filled her with dread, and she summoned Doctor Doesugood to consult on a preventative diet to assist in maintaining her joie de vivre.
He prescribed a diet of a quail’s eggs, served on an oat and almond bread toast and a baby spinach leaf for breakfast, wild salmon fishcakes with marjoram and dill sauce for lunch – courtesy of the Storyteller’s recent poaching expedition. And for dinner Cremini mushrooms cooked in butter and strawberry yoghurt, especially fortified with sunshine from Michael’s dairy farm.
The doctor had an apothecary’s shop providing herbs and spices, and he gave the queen a large box of assorted teas to drink during the day, including ginger with raspberry, and frankincense with chamomile. He had also handmade a very special gift for his queen, which when revealed startled her majesty into admiring gasps. It was a firefly feeder with 20 vertical rows of tiny cells that were filled daily with amber nectar. In the evening the fireflies that the queen had brought with her from Spain, would now gather on the feeder and after one sip of their favourite beverage they would create a bright light for her to bask in the glow of. The doctor assured the queen that just twenty minutes each evening would maintain her healthy glow and she was thrilled.
He did however warn his patron that after the allotted time the fireflies would be rather tipsy, and would fall off into the padded tray conveniently placed. He told her not to worry as they would sleep it off and be ready for action the following night, since the amber nectar was addictive.
With her own health and that of her family now taken care of, it was time to make sure that the palace was water tight. To this end she requested the presence of Jacobi the old pigeon keeper who slept in the roof with his charges. The royal pigeons with their feathery legs were one of her joys, and she could often be found in the rafters, stroking their soft feathers and cooing in harmony with them.
Along with Jacobi, she also asked for the master web maker to be brought up from the dark recesses of the palace basement, along with the spit master. These three creatures were bred from special ancient stock, and whilst the pigeons had flown ahead of the main party when leaving Spain, the precious spider and the spitter frog were carefully placed in moss lined baskets and transported on the backs of the swans.
The web maker was reverently placed on the table in a wicker basket of the finest quality as befitted his standing in the court. The queen carefully lifted the lid and reached inside and scooped the creature into the palm of her hand. Two very large eyes opened and two spiny arms reached out to tenderly caress her wrist.
The giant spider sat happily as the queen explained her requirements. Occasionally there would be a nod of the giant head and a quick tickle with its forelegs on her delicate skin that made her giggle.
‘So we have that clear then Sir Arachnid?’ The queen paused to await acknowledgement.
‘You will encourage your team to spin 100 large webs which will be stacked ready for use between the oak leaves provided, and have them ready in the next five days.’ Two taps on her wrist, and a little wiggle of the spider’s back end confirmed the instructions. She placed her most revered servant back in his basket, and he was whisked away by a footman to his lair where his 200 troops awaited eagerly for the challenge.
The spitter frog master arrived in the throne room under his own steam. He enjoyed the run of the palace along with his team of expert fly catchers. This was especially important in the summer months when the bluebottles, fat and bloated from feeding on dead things, would push their way into any cracks and crevices in the magnolia tree’s defences. They would scoff anything they could find including the delicious honeycomb which was created in the rooftop hives. Two spitter frogs guarded the entrance to the apiaries and it was a much requested duty, as bluebottles make a stupendous treat for a frog.
‘Good morning Sir Spitface and I hope you are well today.’ The frog hopped up and down and gave an enthusiastic croak.
‘I need your team’s assistance on a special project,’ she gestured that she wanted him to hop onto the table in front of her.
She indicated a large piece of parchment in front of her, and explained that she had asked the drones from the hives to conduct a survey of the roof of the palace; identifying areas where rain might find its way in.
‘As you can see there many places, where the roof is aligned to branches of the tree and water might seep through. I have asked Sir Arachnid to provide a hundred web patches, and Jacobi to collect the fragrant parcels dropped by the royal pigeons, to provide the filler of the smaller cracks. I need you and your frog support team to use your saliva to seal them in place.’
The frog hopped around the parchment for several minutes, studying the various problem areas, and then gave a croak of assent. ‘Excellent,’ the queen gently tickled the amphibian’s knobbly head.
Over the next few days, the worker bees, fairy handymen and the frogs gathered around spots where the roof met the magnolia branches, placing the web patches, filling in small cracks and sealing all in place with frog spit. Jacobi and the Queen Bee inspected the repairs and announced their satisfaction to her majesty, who commented that the proof was in the pudding!
Sure enough, two days later there was a deluge as a front swept up from the south. Apart from one little spot that needed a little more spit, not one single drop made its way into the palace, and this of course provided a perfect excuse for a bit of a party. However, as her ladies in waiting slipped the pale pink silk dress over her head and patted it into place, Queen Filigree began to feel quite unwell. She wondered if she had overdone the ginger and raspberry tea earlier, but the next minute her ladies gasped as she slipped to the floor.
©Sally Cronin Tales from the Irish Garden.
Tune in next week to find out what ails the fairy queen…..
My latest short story collection is Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet.
One of the recent reviews for the collection
I’m guaranteed to experience laughter and tender emotions when I read a book written by Sally Cronin. In her latest, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, she shares a dozen or so short stories and a few poems that focus on the absurdities of life and all the moments that live to teach us something new. I try to convince myself to only read one each night, but an hour later, the book is finished. Perhaps her next collection will include a theme of patience!
Undoubtedly, my favorite is the first story in the lot. All the rest had something amazing to live up to: Sometime in the future (hopefully VERY distant), an automated device is hooked up to EVERYTHING the narrator does. When she wants to order a few grocery items that might have a little too much sugar and fat in them, everything falls apart. Seriously… how many times have we all had this scenario happen in the most briefest of moments — the one where someone says, “Buy the diet item” or “You don’t really need to eat that, do you?” Take it up or down a million notches in this story. No matter what angle our protagonist tries, the computer has her beat.
Life is definitely like a bowl of cherries. It is sweet and sour, you’ve got to go through a hole bunch to find the best one, and if you consume too many pits, I hear there’s an arsenic concern to consider. Luckily, if you devour this particular bowl of cherries, you’ll have some witty stories to share at a dinner party or a fun little tidbit to announce on your next conference call. Cronin completely had my in hysterics over what happened in the first story, and at other times, I smiled and laughed… teared up a bit at the generosity of some and the thoughtfulness of others.
This is everything you want in a short collection of tales about the reality of life. Well worth the purchase and download. Highly recommended. And it reminds me why I’ve grown to love this author’s work. We all need a little bit of her wisdom and humor.
You can find out about my other books and their most recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2021