The following is an excerpt from the short story Kitchen Ambitions, which is set in the same world as my current project, Decay’s Trap. If you like what you see, you can get yourself a copy of it for 99 cents from Amazon, Smashwords, or XinXii.
And if you don’t have an e-reader, don’t worry about it, Amazon has an app for the iPhone,or PC, Smashwords offers a variety of formats to downloand and to read the XinXii epub version, Adobe offers a computer-based e-reader as well. And all these readers are free!
As Evelyn walked to her corner of the vast underground kitchens of the Citadel she did her best to ignore the taunts of “How noble she looks!” and “One of the Family for sure!” following her. But then someone with a highly polished boning knife in his hand stepped in front of her.
“Look who it is, the Salad Girl.”
Anton. He had never been able to resist a moment of harrassing her, especially after that mistake of a night she’d made in a moment of weakness back when they were both apprentices.
She looked him directly in the eye. He had grown up and out in the time she had been away. It was almost too bad they hated each other.
“Still polishing other people’s knives are you?” She angled her head to give the impression she was looking down on him like she always had.
While he stared at her with eyes full of arrogance, the knife flew out of his hands and neatly boned a whole chicken in seconds. The contempt in his expression made his face curl up like the discarded skin of the boneless chicken on the butcher block beside him.
“Head Poultry Chef now, Evelyn,” he announced, like cooking mere poultry was anything to be proud of. He held up his hand and the knife jumped from the butcher block into his grasp.
Without moving a muscle Evelyn cleared all evidence of chicken, depositing in the scraps bin as was proper procedure.
“The girl can do magic after all,” someone behind Anton said. “And here we thought she was a member of the Family come down to show us how to live the genteel life.”
“If you don’t let me pass, I will take that knife and skin you as fast as you skinned that chicken.”
Anton said nothing but someone else yelled, “She’s been working salads so long she’s forgotten that magic doesn’t work on living things.”
Evelyn resisted the urge to laugh. She was a Master in the Art of Saladry and knew more about magic by not using it than any person in the kitchen who used it on a daily basis!
She didn’t answer and Anton finally stepped aside, his eyes averted down at his feet.
“Idiot,” Evelyn muttered under her breath.
After that everyone else let her finish the walk to the back of the kitchens where the salads were prepared.
There was no natural lighting in her corner, but the abundant witchlamps hanging from the ceiling provided more than enough light to work. The space was a full mini-kitchen with its own bakery, butchery and ovens, as she’d expected. The Family she served might be a bunch of insane assassins, but they did at least understand the Art of Saladry.
She felt her molars unclenching. She wouldn’t allow herself to get fired on her first day as Head Salad Chef for rising to a few taunts. Who cared what a bunch of ignorant cooks thought of her?
It’s all about the salads and the experience, she reminded herself. Ignore them.
Six months here or at most a year then a triumphant return to the coast, where the sun actually shone for more than ten minutes a day. And where other cooks respected the purity of Saladry. Only the fact that the magic-disdaining Family had one of the few fully stocked mundane kitchens in the five surrounding countries had been enough incentive to draw Evelyn back to the home she had abandoned the first chance she had gotten.
The last chef had obviously not cared about purity, however. Evelyn could see signs of magic use as she approached her station. Several of her underlings were removing dirt from the lettuce with their minds instead of with water and the bowl of croutons freshly delivered from the other side of the kitchen had obviously been baked in the kitchen’s main ovens.
She approached the person nearest her, a woman deeply focused on taking the rind off of a watermelon in slow curved slices.
“Watermelon’s out of season,” Evelyn said by way of greeting.
The woman flinched but the knife didn’t make a wrong move. She finished the slice then lay the knife down.
“It comes from the Greenhouse, Chef.”
The Greenhouse. Evelyn’s favorite place in the Citadel, in all of Turliena actually. When she’d first been apprenticed to saladry, the Chief Salad Chef had been very strict about the Greenhouse. And from her most recent visit to the Greenhouse she had discovered a team of gardeners headed by a man as passionate about Saladry as she was. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about fresh produce.
“Is that so?” she said leaning forward to examine the watermelon closely.
“I grew it myself,” the underling said. “From seeds of a melon from Lories.”
Evelyn smiled. Lories was the city in Niperta where the Art of Saladry had been born. This melon would be pure.
“Well Anastasia, congratulations. You’re my new second in command.” She turned to the rest of her crew. “This woman is serious about Saladry. If you want to cook with magic, you are more than welcome to move to another area of the kitchen.” No one left. Good.
After talking briefly with all her staff, Evelyn left and let the morning shift leave as well. Anastasia stayed to show the newest chef how to knead dough properly with his fingers. He looked a bit dismayed and Evelyn bit down on a laugh. No point in antagonizing him.
Anton wasn’t at his station on her way out and so Evelyn managed to make a quiet exit.