"All she needed to gather were the ingredients for the meal. This she tried to explain on one summer morning, standing by the outer dungeon's exit while confronting two guards who had their daggers pointed at her."
Voluntarily incarcerated in a prison full of men, married to a man who has no desire to "love" her in the traditional sense of the word, Birdesmond Manx Chapman has chosen a challenging path in life. But she is a Seeker, a prison-worker who has taken an oath of eternal confinement in order to share the conditions of her prisoners. She has the strength to meet all challenges.
Until she encounters her greatest challenge of all: obtaining the ingredients for a wedding-anniversary meal in a dungeon filled with men who don't know how to cook.
This short story of an unconventional marriage by a woman who lives in a man's world can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, a speculative fiction series set in a nineteenth-century prison.
The Eternal Dungeon series is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
She was a newlywed. She was also a Seeker, duty-bound to search the Eternal Dungeon's female prisoners for their crimes. In the view of many men, she knew, that made her unwomanly. Birdesmond Manx Chapman was determined that her husband not be one of them.
Weldon Chapman, the mild-mannered Seeker whom she had married, had said nothing to her that indicated he had any doubts about their recent marriage. But he had mentioned, from time to time, the life he had lived as a young man with his beloved parents. His mother's cooking played a prominent role in such tales.
So she decided to cook him a meal in honor of their first year together. That seemed a simple enough exercise. The Record-keeper of the Queendom of Yclau's royal prison, charged with finding living quarters for the Eternal Dungeon's first married Seeker couple, had thrown all caution to the wind and assigned them a large two-bedroom apartment, complete with a full-scale kitchen. All she needed to gather were the ingredients for the meal.
This she tried to explain on one summer morning, standing by the outer dungeon's exit while confronting two guards who had their daggers pointed at her.
"But I'm simply going shopping!" she protested.
"I'm sorry, ma'am." The senior guard's voice was grim. "No Seekers are permitted to leave this dungeon without permission from the Codifier."
"It's in the oath you took," the junior guard contributed helpfully.
She knew all about the oath. She had fought her way bitterly to the point where the Eternal Dungeon would allow her to take a Seeker's oath of eternal confinement. It had simply not occurred to her that the dungeon authorities would interpret the oath so literally as to prevent her from carrying out her wifely duties.
It was typical of the sort of trials she had encountered since becoming a Seeker. She had thought that the Record-keeper would pass out when she mentioned her need for certain monthly supplies used by nearly all women her age.
"Perhaps the Cook can be of help to you," suggested the senior guard, who had not yet lowered his dagger. "She's in charge of food supplies in the dungeon."
The Cook was manifestly not inclined to be of any help whatsoever. . . .