The King’s cook thrashed about the kitchen seeking inspiration, a sign, a clue of any kind that might, by the end of the day, afford him his life. An emissary from a distant province had arrived the evening past. Notice had filtered down that the King required a fitting banquet.
The oaken backdoor’s hinges creaked and Fain the meat monger peaked through, his long mottled beard waving with the breeze.
“Shut da fookin’ door, won’cha? What are ya, a comely neighbor come to beg a cup?” Simon crossed his thick arms and cocked a hip. Before Fain could respond he continued, “How fresh?”
“This morning.” Fain smiled at being called comely and this three good teeth glimmered yellow. “I could use a sip o’ somethin’ warm. Spicy if’n you got it.” The monger swung the dark-stained sack from his shoulder and looked around.
“Over here.” The cook wrapped a scared hand around the sack’s neck and pulled Fain to a wide butcher block that stood near a wall that dripped with water. The temperature in the corner dipped considerably.
“Never cease to amaze, Sy, this cooler you fashioned.” Fain loosed the drawstring and exposed an assembly of butchered parts, with grisly dark meat exposed at the joints and seams.
“Ya. I only wish t’were more victuals to cool. I ain’t seen the likes of a hind or billy for months.” Simon handled the chunks of flesh, turning them over, looking for signs of decay, poor butchery and provenance, if evident. He hefted one filleted cut where he noticed a familiar contour, muscled parts that, if rolled back to shape, resembled a suspcious form.
“Times is wicked hard,” Fain said as an excuse.
“Don’t be ‘structing me on da times, Fain. ‘Taint your neck be split for da risk.”
Fain leaned away from the block. “Nothin’ you ain’t seen before, Sy.”
Simon returned the piece of meat to the pile. He stooped his shoulders and wiped his hands on his frayed apron, its color like camouflage. The moist corner walls of the kitchen pressed in on him. He returned to handling the meat, arranging it in now obvious patterns. He thought of past subterfuge, of culinary acts that he’d once regarded as heinous, but now, only disturbing.
“Thirty pound o’ meat… Four ‘n five would do.”
“It be worth three, given—”
“—Four, and I sit for a morning meal.”
“Three-five, and I doan march you’n this lot down to the constable.”
Fain shrunk at the threat but nodded acceptance.
Simon knew how tough the times were—and had been for more than a year. “You’n stay for a meal—if’n next time, you make an effort to hunt a wee bit wider for your stock.”
The meat-monger perked up and helped Simon hang the slabs of flesh from hooks that hung near the water-wall. “Sy, what’ll be the serving, you think, for such victuals?”
“Were it be a boy or a girl?”
“A lad, head crushed by a wagon at the docks.”
“A stew for the stringy parts. The chunky bits I’ll roast with honey ‘n nutmeg. The court won’t never know. I sure as the Devil be never to tell. You?”
Fain’s beard swung in time to the shaking of his head. “By tongue is me own and none will pull it from me.”
The cook returned to the oven where he pulled out fresh rough-bread made from grains gathered by maids and livery boys. “Long pig be fine for the nobles.” The big man laughed, cleared his throat and declared, “There be servants serving servants. Won’t the King be pleased.”