“And if you bend the trotter away, you’ll see a natural articulation point, and you can slip your knife right into the joint, there, and a simple cut with a sharp boning knife, and you’ve got a perfectly cut pork trotter, ready for the stockpot.” I gestured with my knife, the flesh of the pork shoulder almost melting away from the brilliant edge of the blade. The skin parted easily, showing the ivory bone and the creamy white fat against the dark red meat.
My students took notes and mimicked my work with varying levels of success, but no human bloodshed.
“Don’t worry if you mangle it. Your stock won’t care, and if it’s too badly done, we can always make sausage out of the scraps.”
After my debut at the cooking school, I had been approached by the instructors to teach some private lessons. They were even recording it and broadcasting it somewhere. I wasn’t quite sure where, but I knew they had problems with “interference” if they tried to film it in the Hearthfire kitchens, so I had come to the cooking school to teach a bunch of senior students how to properly take apart a pork front quarter. Next week we would be tackling a beef loin that I had had aging in the Hearthfire cooler for six weeks. I smiled at the thought when something pinged off my consciousness.
Danger! Come home! Images of an empty brazier, a breath of smoke, a donkey’s bray, then a wash of heat across my face, a laugh that seemed to slip through the edges of hearing.
I shook my head, not quite sure what I had just seen.
“Miss Hestia? Is something wrong?” One of the students had seen me shake my head.
“Sorry, Nikos, just thought of something I need to see to at home. Excuse me a moment,” I said and walked into the refuge of every modern cook – the walk-in cooler.
I pulled out my phone and texted Bruna and Connor. Is everything okay at the Hearth? I just had the oddest feeling…
Bruna, bless her, answered first. Everything’s fine. Brazier crackling away and Eros is out on the balcony dozing in the sun. I just refilled his water bucket.
Connor answered a few minutes later. Sorry, was on a call with Grandda Hector. He sends his love. Everything’s fine here that I can see.
That..didn’t feel right.
Thanks, both of you. Appreciate it.
I looked around the cooler, taking a deep breath. It was probably nothing. Ever since the nightmares around last Samhain, I had been having extra vivid dreams, remembering the old days. More than once, I had woken Connor up by yelling in my sleep. I had even punched him once, poor lad, and cracked two of his ribs in the process.
“I guess you weren’t kidding when you said immortality didn’t mean invulnerability, darlin’,” he had said as he was getting his ribs taped up. Even though he winced with each chuckle, he squeezed my hand to let me know he was all right. “I’m just glad ye don’t sleep with your spear by the bed, or you’d ha’ made me into goat kebabs.”
I hadn’t stopped fussing over him for a week. I smiled at the cases of vegetables and fruits in the cooler, feeling a faint blush spread over my cheeks. Questions answered, I grabbed a handful of herbs that were keeping fresh, and went back out to the students.
“Sorry about that, kids, you know what it’s like,” I said, spreading the herbs out on my workspace and beginning to strip sage leaves off their stems. “Now, you all know how to make a basic rich stock, right?”
They answered in the affirmative, and the class continued.
After several steamy, pork-scented hours, we went our separate ways. I lifted up the container of stuffed pork trotters (I had deliberately mangled a couple of shoulders to show the students how to make the best of it) and shoved my knife roll under my arm.
As was my habit, I scanned the room before I left. The countertops had been scrubbed, stock pots cleaned and returned to their racks, all the assorted debris either repurposed into future dishes or tidied away to be composted and spread into the extensive gardens.
Something still felt off, though. I walked past the cooktops, checking that each one was properly turned off. Everything seemed to be in order.
My phone pinged, and I reached for my back pocket.
A text from Connor. Where are you? I’m waiting out front.
Now that was odd. I usually walked to and from the school as long as the weather was decent. The midwinter days were short, but it wasn’t raining, so I had planned to walk.
I walked today – I wasn’t expecting you to come get me. Be right out.
I readjusted my burden and walked out of the kitchen, being careful to lock the door behind me and waving to the security guard as I left.
When I got outside, the wind was kicking up, fresh and cool off the slopes of Olympus, and I smiled in the afternoon breeze, looking around for Connor. I didn’t see him anywhere, either lounging around to walk me home or on his motorcycle. I pulled out my phone again.
Where are you? I’m out front. Maybe he had stepped into the local Dark Sparks outpost for a latte or something.
What do you mean, where am I? I’m at home watching TV.
I frowned at my phone. You just texted me telling me you were out front waiting for me.
No, I didn’t, I’ve been home all day. It’s Saturday, that’s the day where satyrs get to be lazy bastards and raid their lady’s fridge. Wee Hamish is making his debut today and I want to watch the game. Come home soon, I’ve got a pint waiting for you.
What in the nine realms….
Sighing, I began the walk home, burdened with righteous curiosity and stuffed pigs trotters. The Dark Sparks in the Olympus Admin building lured me in with the siren scent of freshly roasted beans, and I detoured, smiling at the handsome young buck behind the counter as he handed me my usual – iced cafe au lait, light ice, dark roast, not too sweet.
“Do you want Mr. Opan’s usual as well, ma’am? Won’t take a moment to make.”
Sure, why not…“Yes please, thanks.” I signed the charge slip and added a generous tip, then took the drink carrier containing two large cups of frothy caffeinated deliciousness and placed it on the box, then scooped up the lot and headed for the elevator. The doorman held the elevator for me, and I smiled at him until I got inside and hit the button for my floor. The attendant, a handsome young man with strikingly white hair, nodded at me and hit the button for the 8th floor.
Since when did Sparky shake loose the drachma for an elevator attendant? I smiled at the young man and turned back to watch the doors close.
“Can I take that for you, madam?” the uniformed young man asked, with a gesture to my full hands.
“Oh, sure,” I said, and handed over the box. As I did, the feeling of wrong intensified, and I looked into the mirrored wall of the elevator, reaching into my knife roll like I was looking for a lipstick.
The elevator attendant wasn’t casting a reflection.
I kept my face calm and reached for a very special knife that I kept in the bottom of my bag. The handle was made of one of Cerberus’ puppy teeth and the blade was black iron, kept oiled and wicked sharp. My hand slipped around the smooth ivory and I smiled.
“Usstan zhaunau dosst valsharess orn’la naut ori’gato uns’aa dro wun gre’as’anto p’luin Usstan della ussta statha,” I said, keeping my voice casual. I knew your queen wouldn’t let me live in peace after I shared my story.
“Ussta jallil ‘udtila naut plynn chiana d’khaless ssussunel,” he replied and hit the emergency stop button. My lady does not take betrayal of trust lightly. I could hear alarm bells ringing elsewhere in the building, and I wondered for a split second if this bastard would even show up on video.
We jerked to a stop, and I took a deep breath before the lights went out. I had seen what the Dark Court assassins could do, and I didn’t fancy being ripped apart from the inside after I inhaled their smoke.
‘Vith dos, dos phoss’iz fa’la zatoast,” I snarled, and pulled my hand free, whipping the black iron in a general that-guy direction. It was black as pitch in here and the only thing I could hear was the alarm bells. Fuck you, you smoky bastard.
Of course, I didn’t hit anything, and I felt something metallic slide across my upper arm, followed by the hot drip of ichor. I dropped to the floor and slashed again, still not connecting with him.
For the love of spice, this is like six feet square, I should be able to hit him in a sealed box!
A chuckle from behind me, and I grinned for a split second before throwing myself backwards, feeling a satisfying impact and a groan as my head connected with something that definitely wasn’t made of bone. I dropped the knife and waited. When he leaned forward clutching his damaged groin, I grabbed him by his hair and yanked hard, flipping him down on top of me and slammed his head down into my upraised knee. I felt bone crack and the knee of my jeans was suddenly warm and squishy. I threw him off me, hard enough to spiderweb the glass of the elevator’s mirror, and grabbed the knife from where it had slid away.
The heat rose under my skin, and I began to glow, my own incandescent rage at being attacked in my home for telling a story bringing out the anger of eons. The elf looked at me over his shattered nose and said four words through a broken-toothed and bloody grin.
“Dos dizta vith’ez elg’caress.” You goat-fucking bitch.
The knife glowed red-hot as I plunged it into his chest, moving so fast that he never had a chance to go misty and avoid it. I didn’t let go until the elevator was full of smoke and there was a pile of greasy ashes staining Sparky’s precious crimson carpets. There were scorch marks on the silvered mirrors, and the metal backing had bubbled away in a perfect black outline of the dead elf. The knife cooled rapidly, and I heard the crackle of the remains of the elf sizzling to cold grey ash on the blade.
I stepped over the ashes and hit the emergency stop button again, and the elevator started to climb. I smelled burning plastic, and I saw where the button had melted from my thumbprint. I didn’t care right now. Amazingly, our coffees hadn’t spilt in the fracas, and I smiled as I picked them up and lifted the box of snacks from the floor. Only mildly ashy, still entirely edible.
The doors finally slid open at my doorstep, and the brazier was there, gleaming and safe. I exhaled, feeling my skin cool down and letting myself fall back into my mortal form. Tucking the knife back into the roll, I walked to the brazier, set down my burden, and knelt before it.
The flames leapt up and caressed my face, soft as swansdown. Danger?
“No more,” I whispered. “The danger is gone for now.” I reached into the box of trotters and pulled one out, laying it gently on the coals. It was gone in seconds, and I smiled at the scent of burnt offerings.
Love. Gratitude. Welcome home.
“Connor, I could really use that pint right about now,” I said, tossing the knife roll onto my scarred and lightly scorched countertop. Most of the damage from the week before had been repaired, but I had instructed the tradesmen to merely sand off the worst of the burnt marks and deep gouges. I believed in letting things show the battles they had fought. I would oil it again later, and then again, until the marks became part of the patina of use. I put the box of trotters in the recently-replaced fridge.
“In here, love, they’re just about to start,” Connor called from the living area. He was draped across the sofa, lounging in his satyr form, all long legs and broad shoulders. I handed him his coffee and got a kiss in return. The TV was turned to the BBC and a glass full of a dark amber liquid, covered in frosty condensation, was waiting in front of my favourite chair. He had even made popcorn.
“Ooooh, cider!” I said, and flopped down in the chair. Connor sniffed and made a face.
“Why do you smell like burnt blood and sausage, love?”
“Assassin dark elf in the elevator, and those stuffed pork trotters you like,” I said, and tipped back the glass.
“Och aye,” he said, raising one eyebrow as I emptied the glass and snapped my fingers for it to refill. “Anythin’ I need to be worryin’ about?”
“Nope,” I said, draining the second glass a little more slowly. “He’s very, very dead.”
“Hes, I dinna mean to be tellin’ you what to worry about, but between the rampage in the kitchen and assassins on the lifts, don’t you think you should begin to be a wee bit more cautious?”
I paused, considering. “Nah, I’m fine. They can’t actually kill me, after all.”
“As long as you’re sure,” he said, giving me one more look before turning his attention to the game.
“I’m sure. Now, which one is wee Hamish?”
“The stocky one with the black eye and the same grin as grandda Hector,” he said, gesturing with his glass to one of the players. “Just got recruited last week.”
“The other team isn’t going to know what hit them.” I scooped up a handful of popcorn and leaned back with my cider. Just another Satyrday on Olympus.