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Upon returning from our short foraging trip turned impromptu hunt I’d sent to brothers to go report to the Master Huntsman of the oddities we encountered in the southern jungle. By the time dinner rolled around the next day and the boar meat I had been marinating overnight was roasted and served, the oldbeards of Hearthholm had heard of the news. With a series of gruff nods the old Dhurger to a one had sat themselves at the head of the hall’s long table.

Along with still steaming plates of hearty meats, breads, and chilled pickled vegetables, the elders had brought with them reading spectacles, swathes of paper, ink, feathers, and a slew of reports to be looked over. It wasn’t time yet for the monthly meeting, but the oldbeards enjoyed every excuse they had to get together and hash out ‘minor issues’ before they blew up into something unmanageable.

As the defacto ranking Master Hearthkeeper of the village, I had of course been invited to participate. Regardless of my youth and inexperience compared to the rest of the Masters in attendance, according to Dhurger tradition and culture, it would be unthinkable to not have a representative of a profession weigh in on matters concerning governing policies. Within a larger settlement or a proper Hold, such meetings would first be held separately between members of artisan guilds, military leaders, and other organizations before their own leaders would leave to report to a governor.

Hearthholm is small enough that chosen representatives of each major profession will be present to speak so as to advise the governor. It’s a time consuming form of governance to be sure, but it works and works well. For all that many of us spend long nights debating for hours on end, the actual implementation of new edicts and changes made for the betterment of our village is quite fast to occur.

“In agreement with the Master Farmer, Huntsman, Miller, and Herder, current rates of growth and culling are greater than we’ll be able to consume even with a hard winter. At this rate of development we’ll have to say that having an abundance of consumable goods is becoming the norm.” I note succinctly, nodding in the direction of our Head Trader whose golden feline eyes glint brightly. “I’ll grab a few of the younglings and get a head start on pickling and preserving the overgrowth for the summer caravan. We’ll be needing more glass jars for best taste, but barrels will do in a pinch.”

“And have you come to a decision regarding apprenticeships Master Ironhand? This one believes word of mouth has spread as far as our neighboring settlements of your blessed genius. In fact I have one or two rambunctious kittens that would do well under your tutelage.” The Master Trader of our village, Shio Goldseeker coos with hooded eyes.

I’d been making her and therefore Hearthholm a lot of money in recent years from my ‘innovations’. Dwarves like myself could subsist on rocks, grass, unprocessed grain, and raw meat if necessary, and for a long time we had.

Our allies, Demihumans and Beastmen like herself could to a degree. Carnivores could get by with meat and a small amount of carbohydrates found in wild tubers while the herbivores could sustain by eating wild fruits, grain, and leafy plant matter. With survival being a priority for the animal-like races before the arrival of the Dhurger and the… stunted nature of dwarven gastronomy in the old world, the realm of culinary arts were in dire straits.

Fortunately for my kinsmen’s long atrophied taste buds, I am here.

It isn’t in dwarven nature to change, not without proper incentive. It’s not just better tasting food I’m providing however. Good food can do wonders for morale. Even for doughty dwarves who’ll stonefacedly crunch down gravel and raw wheat without complaint, the nutritional value and energy provided by properly prepared food allows a dwarf to work harder and longer. Barrels of premade hardtack and preserves are easily carried by stocky frames and even easier to pop open to eat on the move.

All these things combined would be enough for the Dhurger to see the benefits of prepared, storable meals. For the lesser constitution and the wildly more emotive races we have brought into the fold as Oathblood, they can’t get enough of it.

I have no doubt that once word and goods reach the great Dhurger Hold of our King, a spectacular revolution based on the culinary sciences will bloom. One day in the future I’ll likely be summoned to our capital to prove my Mastery.

But this place is my home. I’ve been more concerned with spreading my methodology to as many of my ‘helpers’ as I could so that when I do eventually leave, Hearthholm will always have at least some of my recipes in the case I’m unable to return.

That said, it’s probably the right time to take on a few apprentices now that we have a sure surplus of preserved foodstuffs and I can take a break from cooking everyday for a good month.

“Yes Master Trader. I will be announcing tomorrow that I am ready and willing to begin accepting apprentices as Hearth Keeper.” I nod seriously, doing my best not to snort when several heads nod along only to turn their glances my way with raised brows. “The dining hall will be self serve for the better part of a month and I won’t be able to do my rounds for the miners or guards on shift, but we have a glut of preserves stored away in the meantime.”

Bushy, bearded faces grimace as if they were beings of flesh turned to stone. Formerly alert and furry ears droop noticeably. A collective voice of despair groans through the throats of many a Master. But before anyone can protest the ancient, gravely voice of our leader speaks loudly and clearly.

“This is welcome news indeed Master Yumly. I am sure that Hearthholm will survive a month without your attentions. And remind others not to grow too spoiled.” Head Dwarf Lokir Ironhand, my great uncle looks around at the table with a soft snort. “Now then, Master Huntsman, your report concerning the incident to the south?”

The grey and silver furred beastman nods, clicking a sharp claw in the treated wood of the longtable. And old wolf of sixty winters, Gurber of Clan Longclaw was a scarred hunter who had lived in an age where the alliance of Dhurger, Demi, and Beast had only just secured the inner kingdom’s borders. He’d traveled far and wide in his youth from settlement to new settlement as part of the Adventurer’s Guild. Now in his retirement he had settled in Hearthholm as a huntsman at the very tip of Dhazad’s frontier borders.

“It’s not unexpected to see a roaming boar or two stradling close the jungle’s edge in spring. Most would be deeper within fighting for territory and mates, but old boars and piglets too weak to fight would naturally be pushed out by the stronger males. This one was neither of those, rather it was full grown, unwounded, and in the prime of its life.” The old wolf pushes a sharp claw into the flesh of his roast, causing it to weep the juices within. “It could be nothing, but it could also be something in the jungle pushing the boars out closer to our border. The youths had the right idea of it, going into the jungle in small groups with enough fire to take a monster down. But for the time being I would propose we put another hold on gathering outings until my scouts and I return. We plan to leave on the morrow once preparations are complete if there are no disagreements?”

Several tankards of ale and the backs of axes clank against the wood of the table in approval, myself doing much the same with the bottom of my steel mug.

Lokir Ironhand grunts, tugging his beard in tentative agreement before asking the Guard Captain, the Head Gunsmith, and Master Blacksmith regarding ammunition supply and the general defensibility of Hearthholm. Their answers seem to wash away what reservations he had as he turns once more to Gurber and approves of his plan.

“Then that matter is settled, let us move on to the next issue at hand. What of the Feral tribes within? Have there been any further sightings?”

And so we continued to speak late into the night, agreeing to fold in the returning scout’s report into the monthly meeting at the end of the next week.

...

Of course, things seldom go as planned as we’d find out in the coming morning.

The small group of primitively clothed, painted, and armed… Elves approaching the gates caused something of a stir of activity within Hearthholm.

Surely this had to be some narrative mistake on the part of the gods of this world? Weren’t elves supposed to be culturally, magically, and sometimes technologically superior to every other race on a given planet?

I thought we were just in some backwater land.

My heart shudders at the thought that the Kingdom of Dhazad is the only form of 'advanced' civilization on the entire world. That can't be right, can it?



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