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Irsquo;m going with the.., p.2
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       I’m Going With the Flames., p.2

           Tobias Gavran
 
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point at my pot. “This is the spell.”

  “That’s simple!” He smiles.

  That’s extremely dumbed down, is the reply that comes to mind. “Yes, although finding the good combination of ingredients – and cooking them the right way – isn’t that easy.” I can tell by his earlier reaction what he thinks about cooks.

  “Oh, I know,” he replies. “You should try my rabbit stew someday. The old sergeant used to say that he had never tasted a stew that smelled like death, before.” He looks at my preparations and makes a gesture to designate it all. “So, what does this whole meal do?”

  “Well, if it’s cooked perfectly – or close enough – and if you survive it, it raises mental barriers. The best way, of course, would be to have a specific regimen. Food usually doesn’t quite work like potions.”

  “Which is why you need to cook it perfectly,” he assumes.

  I nod.

  “And this would make me sick?”

  “You know how you heal faster than most people?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Well, it’s a bit specific. Your body is used to having skin, flesh, and bones injured so it’s better at doing that. I’ve eaten potent meats before, which would otherwise be considered poisonous.”

  “Oh, that’s why those bloody sailors always win at drinking games!” he exclaims.

  “There you go.” I chuckle. “I could cook you some foie saoul, that’d help out.”

  “What’s that?”

  “You overfeed a duck with brandy soaked bread, then cook its liver once it doesn’t get drunk anymore.”

  “How can you tell if a duck gets drunk or not?” His tone is serious at first, but with both laugh at the same time. We settle soon after, as I pull away the pan from the fire. “So you’re really going to eat this?”

  “Yes, I have to.”

  “Why?”

  I frown, here is his dumb side again.

  “No, I mean, why do you need mental protections?”

  “I’m having a little get together with someone.”

  “Who?” This guy just can’t take a hint.

  “What is it to you?”

  He sits down, next to me and scratches his head. “I guess I missed talking to someone.”

  What does he know about solitude? I roll my eyes. “Well, I’m not an entertainer.”

  “With your temper, I’d bet my money on revenge.”

  “Then, you’d lose.” I pour the sauce on the minced meat, and then start eating with a spoon and a grimace.

  “You’re not after someone?”

  I shake my head.

  “Then, who’s after you?”

  I glare at him. “Would you please go away?”

  He grins. “That’s not going to happen. You put me in danger, I’m going to find out why.”

  I frown and keep forcing the food into my mouth despite my tongue begging for a rest. He does make a point. The warrior’s request hardly seems unfair now. “A man came to our home, well, to my parent’s restaurant, actually.”

  The warrior shuffles to sit in front of me and looks at my face, like a child eager for a tale. “A restaurant?”

  “It’s a place where you eat food, can’t rent a room and aren’t supposed to get drunk.”

  “Sounds fancy.”

  I nod. “It was a powerful man, both magically and politically. A mage working for some noble.”

  “What happened?”

  “He made a scandal because he didn’t like his soup.”

  Blue eyes widen with surprise.

  “Yes, that sounds ridiculous now, but he was yelling in our place of business. My brother, big brother that is, told him to shut it and leave. He didn’t like that.” I eat some more. “He told my brother who he was, but he didn’t recognize the name. I didn’t either, but I figured, if someone says his name with that tone, you’d better watch out. I came in and tried to apologize for my brother’s behavior.”

  “I get that you were the smart one.”

  “I thought I was. The mage looked at me and he said, I remember well, ‘You want to atone for your brother’s offense?’ I was naïve. I thought he meant chores, that’s the kind of punishment I was used to, back at home. My parents are kind people. I’d figure he’d ask me to be his home cook or something. I said, ‘Yes.’ And he cursed me.”

  The warrior gasps and I can easily see he has to make an effort not to move further away from me.

  “He cast a spell on my blood, so disease would take me. He cast a spell on my bone, so that they would break at the slightest shock. He cast a spell on my throat so that I couldn’t talk.”

  I see the warrior frown and I smile.

  “The thing with curses is that they are spells cast on living tissue. That’s why they can be hereditary or contagious.”

  “How did you break the curse?”

  I shake my head. “I didn’t. I just replaced the affected parts with ones that were immune to his magic. You are what you eat. Magic impacts everything you do. The more you got hurt, the faster you healed. The more swords a blacksmith makes, the more durable they are. I’ve spent my whole life in a kitchen, I can make a loaf of bread that will last you for a week if I only want it to be nutritious.”

  I can see a bit of wonder in his gaze now.

  “I had been taught to read because my parents own a library of cook books, some of them just for entertainment. That’s where I learned about the theory behind it; how some animals are called monsters because of their use of magic; how this magic is tied to their flesh – which distinguishes them from intelligent species whose magic doesn’t have to be anchored on their bodies. I did what I did best, and I became better at it. I even have a special regimen which gives me some special properties.”

  He blinks. “I never knew food could do all that.”

  “Have you never noticed how the King’s personal levy never suffers from disease when campaigning?”

  It takes him a few seconds to try and remember a time when it might have happened, then suddenly realizes I’m right.

  “That’s because they drink ale fermented with a yeast from the Red Horn Isles which makes you immune to the flu, and because all meals are prepared by actual military cooks which is a little safer than eating your rabbit stew, I’d wager.” I smirk.

  “Wow…”

  “You warriors always think that the only thing that counts is steel and mastery.” I smile. “It turns out, it takes more than an army to win a war.”

  He nods pensively which actually suits him quite well. I would love to see the man perusing a book. I feel a headache coming on and massage my right temple.

  “Why the mental barrier, then?”

  “The accursed mage still tries to insinuate himself in my dreams. Apparently, he has a thing for spooking teenage girls in their sleep.”

  The warrior chuckles.

  “What?”

  “I hardly picture you being ‘spooked.’”

  “I’ll take that as a compliment.” I wince from the pain.

  “And so you sh–” He stops mid-sentence and rushes towards me.

  I wake up in a dark room with the coppery taste of blood in my mouth, but before I can panic, I feel the down-filled blanket over my body. I rise on my hands and see the stains on my pillow. My nostrils are packed with dry blood, and so are my ears. I'm not too worried. Changing myself has never been easy. Luckily enough, there’s still water in the basin I find on a table near the door. This has to be the innkeeper’s room, I hardly think a tavern would accommodate its customers so richly. I wash and exit the room.

  An old tale comes back to me when I find the warrior sitting in the corridor, asleep, his sword resting on his thighs. My grandmother told me of her time in the foreign lands of Lother. For some obscure reason, learning to sleep sitting helps their warriors to stay clear headed even after losing copious amounts of blood. It might be just superstition, but I get the sense that this man is far away from home.

  “Are you going to watch me sleep
?” he asks softly.

  I’m startled and hit the doorframe with my elbow, curse and wince. He laughs and I repay him with a kick, but I’m pretty sure that hurt my foot more than his.

  He finally opens his eyes and stand up.

  “That wasn’t funny!”

  “Fun is in the eye of the beholder.”

  Sleep apparently made him quicker, but I’m not about to congratulate him on his wits. I go down to the kitchen and determine what supplies are still fresh. I end up frying some onions in lard, one of my favorite dishes, which speaks for my sociable tendencies. I do end up serving two plates, because the man didn’t bail on me with my few belongings. In fact, I even spot my bag near the door, unlike the corpses that were there. I don’t know what he did with them, but I guess he gave them some kind of burial. I find us a good bottle of wine which I also bring to the table.

  “There’s something I wanted to tell you, yesterday.” He looks grim, even though he just thanked me for the meal I prepared. “If that mage is so proud, and he can’t lash out on you anymore, he’ll probably go after your family.”

  I shake my head. “No, he’s only gone after me.”

  “He probably thought you were their weakness, that by attacking you, he’d hurt them. You proved him wrong. These people don’t like to be proven wrong.”

  “No, no, it’s not like that.” I smile. Of course, it’s not. I’m the one he’s cursed. The one he followed in sleep. The one who had to change herself to live.

  “Why do you think he cursed you?” the warrior asks.

  “He wanted revenge on my family.”

  “For soup?” He shakes his head. “Your brother challenged him in public. What he did was set an example. Speak against him, and he’ll hurt the people who are close to you.” He takes a deep breath.
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