Making his way through the outer courtyard, Alcher passed the beautiful chapel and priest’s house. He had always admired the colorful stained glass windows that filled both buildings. Having a chapel and priest on the castle grounds was a sign of importance, but it was also a smart defensive strategy. Only the most uncivilized attackers would hurt a priest or their buildings. Religion played an important role in medieval life; it did not matter if you were a king, noble, or peasant. It was common practice for people to attend a church service every morning.
If there was one place in the castle to find Lady Pechal, it would be the kitchen. It was there that she felt most at home. Creating delicious foods for others is what fed her soul, it filled her heart with joy. While she loved to cook, baking was her favorite kitchen activity.
As a young girl, Pechal pushed a stool over to the counter so she stood next to her mother as she prepared food for the next meal. Pechal begged to help, so she was taught some simple cooking tasks. As those were mastered, she was given more. Slowly she learned “the ways of the kitchen.” In her early teens, she was able to do almost all of the food preparation for their family’s meals, however, she was not yet allowed to work with an open fire. Over the years, she continued to expand her skills and knowledge. The king was so impressed, that he asked her to join his kitchen staff. This was quite an accomplishment for a woman, because in medieval times the kitchen staff was mostly men.
The royal medieval kitchen was a well-organized, finely tuned operation requiring many servants and helpers. It was a large, open room with a sink for washing; fireplaces and ovens for cooking and baking; and several large worktables for food preparation. Hanging on the walls were rows of pots, pans, and a variety of utensils. Windows were placed high on the walls so the light could fill more of the room. As a light haze of smoke from the cooking fires filled the room, crisscrossed shafts of sunlight made the kitchen look like a concert stage. The staff’s talents may not have been musical, but they turned simple ingredients into a symphony of flavors. The sound of chopping knives, stirring spoons, clanging pots made a type of music all their own. The people who created the meals were food rock stars.
For several minutes Alcher stood silently in the doorway as he watched the performance play out in front of him. Never before had he given much thought to what went on in the kitchen. Food just “magically” appeared when it was placed before him in the Great Hall. He was amazed with what he saw. He had a greater appreciation for the skill, talent and effort it required to create the food he ate. He was beginning to realize that these (often unnoticed) people would be important to him if he wanted to stay healthy. Educating the kitchen staff about gluten would be yet another task to tackle. Thankfully, Lady Pechal would be a great help, but first she must be educated.
Through the hustle and bustle of activity he spied Lady Pechal in the far corner tending one of the several fires. He carefully navigated around the workers to reach her.
“How does a hungry knight get something to eat around here?” announced
Alcher, as he put down his precious cargo.
Deep in thought, Pechal was startled by his voice. Her heart pounded both from surprise and excitement. The love of her life had returned from a long and uncertain journey. She had not heard anything from Alcher since he had left the castle to seek the wizard’s help.
“Alcher you are finally home!” cried Pechal. She threw her arms around him and squeezed very tightly. After releasing him from the bear-hug, she touched his face and looked into his steel blue eyes. “I have been so worried about you. How are you feeling? Are you okay? You don’t look so pale. What have you found? What was the wizard like? Are you okay?” blurted Pechal. Her mouth tried to keep up as her brain raced with questions.
“Slow down, slow down,” chuckled Alcher, wiping the tears from her eyes. “We have much to talk about, but I am doing much better. Roderick the Wizard was able to figure out what was wrong. Food was making me sick.”
“So,“ Pechal growled, as she waved the fire poker inches from his nose. “My cooking was making you sick?”
“No, no, no!” Alcher laughed as he raised his hands and slowly moved the poker aside. “If it was that bad, it would’ve killed me long ago. Dear, your cooking is beyond question. It is the food itself, not what you do to it. Foods made with wheat, barley, and rye made me sick. Roderick called it gluten,” he explained.
“Oh dear,” replied Pechal with a puzzled look on her face.
“I do not have time to explain right now. I should not have stopped here first. I must get to Princess Cristiana,” said Alcher. “She is sick and the king has asked for my help.” Alcher bent down to gather up the saddle bags.
“The poor Princess has not been herself lately. It breaks my heart,” replied Pechal with a painful look. “Good luck,” she said with a forced smile. “I love you.”
“Thank you, I’ll need it. I love you too,” sighed Alcher, as he kissed Pechal on the cheek. Alcher headed back towards the doorway.
Pechal was relieved that Alcher was finally home. She returned to tending the fire while her thoughts drifted. While she still didn’t know all the details, she felt better knowing why he was so sick. She had felt so helpless as she watched her husband slip slowly away. Little did she know that her skills and talents would play an important role in Alcher’s health.