Rise of the Thrall Lord
The Battle of Fisheye Cove - Epilog 2
Irweena absently seasoned and breaded the raw fish, preparing it for the oil. It was a process she had once done with love and attention. Now, while the resulting taste was hardly any different to the average patron of the Corner Tavern on Calipherus Street by the wall of Restenford, there were some who would know the difference. The Baroness was one. The others were all gone. It was the fishcakes that had kept her from them on that fateful day, and it was the fishcakes that allowed her to continue afterward.
Irweena had heard the stories of what had happened, so like the stories her young Merry had written in her journal. Dragons locked in some mortal battle for reasons no mere mortal could possibly fathom. Fire, frost and lightning wielded carelessly, like her Gulley flailing about with sticks. But, as always, when the great do battle, the small are wounded the worst. The tale ends with all of the dragons leaving, harmed, but alive, and all the people in the cove gone without a trace. The people…her family.
A tear formed in Irweena’s eye and she knew that she had better go out of the kitchen. Her departed father’s old friend, a man she called uncle, watched her leave and continued helping his customers letting them know that their fishcakes would be delayed slightly. This happened several times every day and both he and the customers were used to it.
Irweena sat on the steps that faced the yard behind the shop. She cried for a minute softly, then began looking around at the buildings and the wall. This was where she had grown up. What fun she had with her playmates after the chores were done. There was a puppeteer that practiced two houses down and they would sneak into the yard next door to take turns peeking through a hole in the fence to watch. There was a stray cat they had named Mr. Sniggerbottoms that was as tame as tame could be with them because they fed him fish scraps after the soup was cooked. He was very fat, but they would pick him up and dance with him and tell him all their deepest secrets because he would listen, but never tell. Eventually, the now much older Irweena would look at the herb garden and collect some fresh dill or basil. She would then go back to her fishcakes and the patrons would not be displeased.
It was mid-afternoon, just after the midday meals were served. There were still a few of the regulars that always came by when it wasn’t busy, enjoying their meal and discussing the gossip of the day. Mrs. Gottermot was expecting, but wouldn’t admit it yet. Clive Durncastle was arrested again for punching a carriage horse that he said insulted him. Arigorn Schwartz had moved off to Dunwynn, to no one’s surprise and to everyone’s delight. And then a new voice was heard. It was the voice of a lady, but it was young. She said that she had heard tales of there being delicious fishcakes here, so she had to try one. When Irweena turned her head, she saw that the girl had taken a corner table by the window and was looking out at the street. She was dressed in fine clothes, but they were for travelling, not for taking in a day in Restenford. She turned back to the hot oil and placed two cakes into the pot. After a few moments of looking at the flour bucket and measuring in her mind how long it would be before it would have to be refilled at Mr. Froddleskin’s grain wheel, she looked at the cakes. She was looking for the skin to crack just slightly and there, they were done. With hands that knew their trade without their owners attention, the cakes were out and draining in an instant. Once the excess oil had dripped off, the cakes were dusted slightly with sea salt, put on a wooden plate, and Irweena headed off to the corner table. The girl said, “Thank you. I’ve heard so much about them. I can’t wait to try.”
She motioned for Irweena to stay while she tasted the cake. She took a bite that was not quite as dainty as Irweena had expected, for the Baroness had always taken dainty bites. After swallowing and drinking some water she smiled and said, “That was really good. But if I’m not mistaken, this was made with river trout?”
“Yes, m’lady. It calls for yellow jumpers, but they’re scarce this time o’ year,” Irweena said with a curtsy. Irweena, when she was young, had once been distracted by a fire in another part of the royal kitchen and the Baroness’ cake had been slightly overcooked. When the baroness made a peculiar face, the head cook had told her she would receive no pay for that day and that she would also have to peel dragonfruit for the rest of the week.
The panic of imperfection must have shown on her face for the young lady said, “Well, for a trout-cake it is extraordinary and you are truly the finest at your trade!”
“Oh, thank you m’lady,” Irweena said with obvious relief in her voice.
“Are you the owner of this place?” the girl asked taking another larger than necessary bite of the cake.
“No, my uncle…,” Irweena said meekly.
“Where is your uncle?”
“He takes a nap in the afternoon while it’s slow.”
“Well, you simply must have yellow jumpers for your cakes and there is a man out in the street with a basket of them looking for someone to buy them.”
“Oh, m’lady, my uncle handles all the money. I can’t possibly…”
“Here, I think this will buy the whole basket,” the girl said handing her a coin of platinum. “Now hurry before they’re all gone.”
Irweena was befuddled to say the least. She was sure the whole basket wasn’t worth more than a few silvers and no fishmonger could make that kind of change. As a fishmonger’s wife she had never seen so much as a piece of gold. However, the young lady had a compelling tone in her voice that seemed to give Irweena no choice but to attempt to buy the fish. Irweena walked out of the door and into the street. The platinum coin was immediately dropped and forgotten as she saw, each holding one handle of a three handled basket of full-size yellow jumpers, packed in ice no less, were her brother, her brother in law and her lovely, bearded, sunburned, leatherhanded, smiling husband. To their side were Merry and Gulley.
The young lady watched the Fichgotz family’s hysterical reunion from the window, hearing the screams, and almost feeling the crushing embraces Irweena Fichgotz gave to her loved ones not noticing or caring how unkempt they were nor how badly they smelled. She also noticed Merry, who as instructed, picked up the platinum coin and placed it in her pocket.
“Mummy, I’ve written it all down, everything,” Merry said to her mother. “I can read you the whole story if you like.”
“Oh, yes, yes my dear. I want to hear every word, over and over,” Irweena stammered through her joyful tears.
The young lady sat at her corner table and ate the second fishcake. “I think I might even prefer the trout,” she said to herself. Then she put her hand on a long, purple, velvet bag and held one end as one might a sword hilt and said, “We’ve done well. They’re so happy. Doesn’t it make you feel so good all over? I’m positively tingling. Now don’t start complaining again. The job I gave you was extremely important, just look at them. I know you don’t have eyes, but you know what I mean…”