The bone from the mutton would start a soup, that could last them a week if done well and the fares were good. A few profitable nights would provide actual meat to bulk out the stew. Helen wiped her face with her apron, it smelled like the fresh bread from this morning. She was still making their own bread and would though the flour kept getting darker and full of filler but the loaves were hers. If Frank did well this week, they might even be able to have a pie, it had been too long since she’d made her own pies. The ones on the street weren’t worth talking about and she knew how Frank loved a pie. But the soup had to be started first and then the washing, no one wanted to hire a cabby that didn’t look smart. All the soot was doing awful things to Frank’s shirts, his jacket could take it better but she missed when the worst to clean off was mud from the farmyard. Carefully she counted out another few pieces of coal for the fire before adding the bone, a carrot, onion and the last pieces of potato. It was too bad they were out of bacon, that would add some proper flavor. As the smell began to fill the kitchen, she found her basket of mending. The light was starting to dim so it was going to be another long day for Frank but then they all seemed to be.
“Nellie, love, wake up,” His voice was warm and almost in her ear.
“Frank, what time is it?” As she opened her eyes, she saw that she’d left the wick up too high on the lamp and her mending had slipped down the side of her chair, their chair, it was the only truly nice one they had. The stuffing was coming out, the fabric was pilling but it was still comfortable and smelled a little like their old farm in Oxfordshire.
“Too late,” He kissed her and tasted of soot and badly made pastry but under it there was the smell of horses.
“There’s bread and stew that needs to be heated up.”
“I can eat it cold, don’t want to be wastin’ the coal,” She watched him turn, without his awful bowler hat and dark jacket, he was more her Frank, not the one that belonged to London. His voice was warmer not hard and fast like everyone else outside clamoring for attention. She stood up to hug him and stir the remaining embers to get some heat into the stew.
Helen stretched her neck, she’d fallen asleep again over the accounts. No, that wasn’t right, there was no bills or bailiffs to chase after anyone in Narnia. Instead there were houses, arguments, laws, planting and harvests to keep everyone happy and fed. She did love her chair, a clever dwarf named Oakgruff had made it when she was trying to explain where she sat in London. Frank had tried drawing pictures and while Frank had made a lot of furniture and houses but he didn’t fully understand how padding and upholstery combined with a chair base.
“Helen, where’s my second best crown? The delegation of Oreads from the mountains are arriving earlier and it seems they’ve brought someone else with them,” Frank was peering around their study as he came in and kissed her on the forehead, giving the papers a frown.
“We’re not behind on anything, no need to frown like that,” She leaned up to kiss him on the mouth, he tasted like the lovely wine the Fauns made and honey, “Your crown’s in the wardrobe, next to your old hat.”
“Why do we still have that?” He asked as he went next door to their bedroom, when the palace was built, they both made sure to have comfortable rooms and nothing too far away. Building was still going on as Narnia grew and became more of a country than an idea. When Frank came back in, his simple circle with the lion’s head was shining through his slightly unruly hair. Helen smiled before standing up to smooth down his hair, dust off a few creases, she could feel him beaming at her before he whispered, “Nellie, we haven’t woken up.”
Her heart always beat slightly faster when he called her Nellie, she was Queen Helen now, but also his Nellie. She pressed herself into his chest, he smelled of apple blossoms, wheat, mud and that odd mossy smell Oreads have as he said, “No, we haven’t this past year. Come down with me, I know how you like all the nymphs. They brought some apples too.”
“I will, I need my crown and how much of a mess do I look?” Her hair wasn’t lying down as it should and she was not that dressed up, this was her dress for inside errands, the sleeves had ink stains. He turned and picked up her crown to match his from a table and set it in her hair, “There, beautiful.”
As they walked down the hall, she ran her hand along the walls with their mix of stone and wood. There was always work and building going on, she and Frank tried to make certain that the palace rose alongside everything else but there was a pride the Narnians took in their court, Cair Paravel. Outside wagons rattled as Narnians brought white stone that one day would cover the palace so it would shine and all Narnians would know where to look for help and chances to grow.
In the throne room, the air smelled of the mountains and so much fruit, Helen leaned on Frank as she breathed it all in, “It’s like summer in here.”
From inside the cluster of Oreads and a few Dryads, a man emerged wearing, no, that was too polite a word, draped in vines and a leopard cloak holding the hand of a woman in green with wheaten hair, no hair so blond it seemed like wheat came forward. “King Frank and Queen Helen, I’m Bacchus and this is my aunt Ceres, I wanted to show her the glory of your land.”
“Helen?” Frank whispered in her ear as he steadied her, she could hear his worry and she straightened to walk like a queen. Perhaps someday she would become used to meeting beings of such power and names she knew from paintings in her home.
Helen turned to kiss Frank’s cheek and offered the guests her hands, “You’ve brought the outside in where it belongs.”
Ceres took her hands and Helen trembled as she felt such life pour through her, “That’s easy enough to do, my dear. Everything wants to flourish as do you.”
Helen didn’t mean to blush, she thought she’d stopped doing that after her wedding night when she and Frank discovered each other’s bodies. But Narnia kept surprising her and Ceres, Helen couldn’t look away from her eyes that seemed to shift from green to blue, like summer skies. “Thank you, I’m still only a farmer’s wife and that means knowing how to tend.”
“I can tell and now you have this land and soon, a family,” Ceres said the last part quietly and Helen squeezed Ceres’ hands tightly, she wanted children but hadn’t had any yet. Perhaps they were simply waiting to be born in Narnia and she felt Frank’s strong hand on her back.
“Come outside, we’re going to plant orchards and there are going to be gardens and farms around,” Helen said, her voice stronger than she thought it would be but this was their land and she was going to show it off to two gods who loved to make everything grow.