Instead of returning to her grandmother, Thea snatched her cloak from a peg in the porch. Glancing back through the opened door into the busy courtyard, she was certain that she saw a blond-headed young thane following the royal party. She looked at the great candle clock that burned time away by the hall’s entrance and hurried to the kitchen buildings that stood apart from the hall in case of fire.
A servant ran past her and banged on the kitchen door. The cook came to the doorway. There was something strange about him. He was not the usual burly, red-faced, kindly Brother Lawrence she had known before. This cook was tall and thin and his hair was cropped short at the back of his neck in Norman fashion. He looked monk-like, yet not like their own monks.
The servant spoke breathlessly. ‘The king would like a dish of spiced pears in wine, and a plate of wafers. Meantime, a jug of hippocras and two cups, if you please.’
The cook peered out of the doorway past the boy and glanced to the right. Thea slipped behind a pillar. Disappearing inside for a moment, the cook reappeared with a jug and two cups as requested.
‘Take this to our Lord King. Return for the pears.’
Thea waited until the servant had scurried off. Stepping out from her shelter, she threw back her hood and brazenly banged on the door. The same cook reappeared.
‘I am Theodora Gytha, the king’s daughter. Where is Master Lawrence? I wish to speak with him.’
The cook looked her up and down as if he did not believe her. ‘He does not work here. He has been transferred to St Benet’s.’ The new cook had a slight accent Thea could not quite place.
‘That is the monastery my mother endows,’ she remarked and added, ‘I was looking forward to his honey cakes.’ Not waiting for a reply, she said, ‘Well then, I am visiting my mare, Lady. I shall have to make do with bread from your bread box for her.’ She did not wait to be invited in, but pushed her way past the long thin man who stood gaping at her, his eyes hooded and unrevealing. She marched through the kitchen help who were preparing vegetables, making up salads and broiling fish in a copper pan over the open fire. The scent of herbs and poaching pears masked the fishy smell and a delicious fragrance rose in a steaming curl from a pot on the brazier. Thea looked about her, not recognising one of the kitchen servants. Moreover, they all wore their hair in the Norman manner, cut short at the back. She hurried over to the bread box and fished out a hunk of bread. The new cook glared when she sped past him clutching it.
‘Princess, surely you have servants to fetch and carry for you,’ he called after her.
‘I prefer to care for my palfrey myself,’ she snapped back.
Thea found a saddle and strapped it on, as Lady munched hay. She looked around for a suitable bridle and, snatching up one that looked as if it would fit, slipped it over the palfrey’s head. Thankful that the stable boys were too busy with the king’s horses to notice the hooded figure saddling up a horse, she led Lady out of the stable, easily mounted the mare in the courtyard and trotted past a few more riders entering through the abbey gateway, her hood drawn close about her face. A call from the gatehouse reached her. ‘Keep to the side. Allow King Harold’s thanes through.’