A heavy black woolen cloak shielded Tristan from the drops of rain that began to fall. He pulled up the hood over his dark, shoulder-length hair and let his light, amber-brown eyes pass into shadow. Many identical hoods drew up over heads and many collars gathered tighter. The carriage bearing his father’s body moved slowly past where he stood. “My Prince,” a voice behind him said. Tristan turned and let the hood drop again immediately. The crowd around him had parted and a woman approached. Yenscha was a heavy, towering creature, almost as tall as himself, with a broad face and huge hands. She wore a grim and forbidding look as she made her way past the others, but then her look changed to that of an anxious schoolgirl about to recite for an exacting master.
She had covered her head and shoulders with a heavy, fringed shawl, leaving tufts of wiry gray hair and shawl fringe sticking out about her face at every possible angle. She bobbed and stopped before him. A silver tray rested on her splayed hand from which she barely lifted the cloth cover.
“Yenscha! What about a taste for the new king?” Tristan was shouldered aside. There was no mistaking the man’s bulky outline, shorter and broader than his own slender build, dark red hair falling untidily onto the magnificent green leather cloak with a silk brocaded lining of many colors. As soon as he knew his father could not recover, over a year ago, Tristan’s two-years-elder brother Dunstan had commissioned the cloak especially for his coronation, to be held that afternoon.
Yenscha’s hand flashed to a large steel spoon tucked into her apron like a sword. She rapped Dunstan sharply on the knuckles.
“For my Prince,” she growled. “Not for you.” Dunstan retreated, nursing his hand and glaring at Tristan. Yenscha shook the spoon at him and he disappeared into the crowd. She presented the tray again to Tristan as if nothing had happened, and he was forced to pretend that nothing had.
Tristan spent some time looking over the morsels on the tray, almost as if he didn’t find anything to his liking. Others lined up behind him, practically drooling for a chance at that tray. Finally Tristan lifted a swirl of pastry with an artful drizzle of sugar, breathed in the still warm cinnamon smell, and put it to his lips. Everyone around him watched in anticipation.
“Mmmm,” he murmured. “Yenscha, it’s perfect.” Tristan planted a kiss on a cheek as red and hard and round as an apple. A broad smile burst out onto the woman’s face, making it positively beautiful. “Special for my Prince,” Yenscha whispered. “None for that other one.” She tossed her head and sniffed. The watchers moved in as he stood aside, everyone certain that the best of Yenscha’s art lay upon that tray. She reluctantly removed the cover, sighing that “her” prince couldn’t eat the whole tray load himself. Yenscha’s sweets and savory bits were legendary, and none of the mourners would even begin to disperse until all the trays now being carried about the grounds, bearing the gift of food for the people, were emptied.
Barnes & Noble