Aura, mistress of the kitchen and always a cloud of flour, missed nothing in her domain. I could enter looking for a cup of brew, and with her busy at the making table, she would call out my name in welcome.
Today, she was tending to making handpies: tender pastry half-moons with sweet, savory or both fillings. “These are danties,” she said, “compared to the ones I made afore.”
“Afore?” I asked, attempting to draw her out. I kept my curiosity warm; others at the inn were most uncurious about all matters.
She turned away from the pastries, poured her cup of brew, sweetened with honey and cream, and gestured for me to join her at the small table
“I come from the northerlies,” she started. “A place were women fish and men mine aragon – the raw makings of your wristlets.” I wore two, each made of intertwined and plaited threads of metal, with a basket-cage center containing a small, opaline gem.
“And,” she continued, “if you were too old to fish, or crippled to mine, you tended the gardens and goats or the communal kitchen.
The gardens were small, hard dug into what soil still clung to the rock. So the small ones scoured the shore at lowest tide for sea weed to add to our spartan fare. We traded, of course, aragon for what we could not grow or get from nature. Cloth for clothes, cord for fishing nets and sets of mining tools, stuffs for the larder. But during the long wintering, we were upon ourselves only for all that we used.
I hated the way my hands got so cold and wet from seaweeding. Cracked and bleeding til salved at night. I swore I’d nary fish either. I hated the sea; the storms it sent that blew through chinked walls and scattered snow across the floor. Or thundered across the land; flashing and threshing.
My father was not one for girls; best off to the marriage bed at first cycle. He cemented his links with the traders through his daughters. Afore he could eye me up for one, I got my brother to allow me into the kitchen at night. Our communal kitchen, you see, was the privy of men.
In the half-light of the fireplace, I first taught myself to make handpies – large sturdy pastries that required no platter or knife. Could eat with wet salty hands, or dry, mine-dusted ones. Then stoops and stews and sweet summer berry tarts. Easy to cook when there is warm days and nature’s bounty.
I think I a bit of magic fore I could make a pie from naught but scraps of fish, dry herbs, and sea grass that tasted better than any full and fat one did. My foragers stew might have the bare scrapings of wintering fodder, but the smell made even those not hungry drool.
By the time, my brother’s ruse was discovered – he took credit for what ere I made at night – was found out — I shouldered the blame, saying I stole the key to kitchen and larder and he but covered for my follies — I was well of age to be married off. My father was advised to leave me be in the kitchen – he would benefit from such generosity to the group.
So, I spared myself from the sea and the marriage bed! I thought myself saved; careful tho to not let pride sour the provender.
The tale of how I got here – mistress of the inn kitchen is a longish one. And, those pastries, despite my magic, will not fill and fold themselves.” She laughed, taking a last deep drink of her brew.
She stirred herself up, flour still clinging to her raven’s breathe hair; her smock and high apron gave out puffs of it as she rose.
inspired by the above image, Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #129