My story “The Cook” is now live and readable for free at Uncanny Magazine! You can also support a great mag by buying the issue or subscribing. It’s a very short bite of a story that bubbled out of a great workshop on writing the kitchen with poet Catherine Bowman.
So far, it’s my happiest published piece, not that that’s saying much. It’s a bittersweet love story, perhaps more emphasis on the sweet. A little something for the epic fantasy fans who appreciate this most important of characters and a beloved trope.
The first time I see her, it’s just a glimpse. I’m standing in the inn’s common room and the other warriors straddle chairs and call for ale. While some reach for a serving wench or boy, cheeks to pinch, a life to grasp—my stomach growls a monster’s growl. I should be slain; the growl is that fierce. I smell the roasting lamb, the unmistakable sneeze of freshly ground peppercorns, and garlic, but it’s all hidden behind the kitchen door.
A woman swears and laughs and swears again from that kitchen, and a boy comes out balancing trenchers of bread across his arms. Behind him, I see her wipe her hands across the measured curves of her hips. The back of her head is covered in short dark hair. She picks up a silver knife before the door slams behind the boy and the bread is at my table and I have thoughts for nothing else. But when I’ve stuffed myself to bursting, I hear her laugh again, and I’m not sure if I’ve imagined it or not.
After my companions and I have reveled away our fears for tomorrow’s campaign and some of them have passed out onto their tables, I rise to find my own bed.
She stands at the door of her kitchen, leaning, arms crossed beneath her chest. Her forearms are thick and knotted like braided dough. Her blouse is half unbuttoned, leading my eyes down the V between her breasts. The sheen of sweat, like condensation, makes me thirsty. She’s watching me—probably all of us, but I prefer to imagine that the sly smile is just for me.