Nothing is harder to cook than dragon...especially when your life depends on it.
|Mr. Ivins, well renowned Master Chef, has always hated heroes.
Oh sure, you may very well say that he hated a lot of things. He hated waiters who dropped plates. He detested barmaids that spent more time leaning over the counter and flirting than serving drinks. He hated the small elven folk who shared a single meal between four of them, but still took up an entire table. He fumed at the dwarven folk who paid in large lumps of iron. He despised saffron with a passion that I cannot even begin to understand. Yes, all that is true, but I can tell you from first hand experience that what he hated most of all were heroes.
I can see by your expressions that you're asking yourself 'how could a chef of such well renown possibly hate adventurers, who are nothing less than the largest spenders of all time?'
They ordered dragon.
They always ordered dragon.
The chef took dragon off the menu and they STILL ordered dragon.
You must understand, my dear listeners, NOTHING is harder to cook than dragon. First, you have to get the meat from a source that is dubious at best. After the giant fell beast is slain by heroes, the knackers practically trip over themselves to be the first ones to the carcass. Each grabs whatever chunks they can get their bloody hands upon and then hurries it over to the designer restaurants who then have to pay whatever ridiculous price the knackers want to charge (which will be about a tenth of the ridiculous price that'll eventually be charged for it in the restaurant) for a pile of miscellaneous dragon meat that can range from a shoulder flank, a few ribs, the tail, or an entire stomach. From these random assortments of meat, Master Chef Ivins has produced dragon steaks, dragon soups, dragon ka-bobs, and in one case, from a dragon stomach, a very shaken and thankful elf.
Secondly, you're going to have to cook it, which is going to take DAYS. Ever wonder why dragons don't burn themselves with their own fiery breath? The oven would have to be practically volcanic in order to even singe a piece of dragon's flesh, and even though our master chef kept his oven charmed with fiery enchantments, they still have to burn all day and all night, for days on end, just to get the dragon flesh to the point of 'rare'. Thankfully, some adventurers have begun ordering Dragon practically raw…but their expectations are somehow the highest when the meat is completely uncooked.
Which leads us to the last, and possibly most relevant reason why the Master Chef hated dragons: they taste horrible. Nothing is worse than breaking your back to cook a piece of magical lizard, preparing it with the skill and craftsmanship of a professional, and then having some brainless, magic sword toting muscle-head take a single bite and announce that it tasted funny.
"OF COURSE IT TASTES FUNNY! IT'S DRAGON! DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO EAT DRAGON?! I OFFERED THE STEAK! YOU WOULD HAVE LOVED THE STEAK! BUT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..."
Luckily, the chef wasn't the one who talked with the customer directly, or we wouldn’t be in business. No, he could only focus his rage upon the hostess, who in turn focused her rage on the waiter, who in turn went back and politely apologized to the customer, and offered to have the chef fix their dish.
The chef took a deep breath, extended his arms outwards, and then snapped them forward, stopping an inch from the poor waiter's face (the hostess had decided to hide in the women's room for the duration of the encounter, a tactic that the waiter, who happens to be myself, found slightly unfair). I stared at the end of an incredibly calloused and discolored finger, as the chef spontaneously regained his composure, and spoke in the voice of a wounded artist,
"How can you fix a catastrophe? You're asking me to redesign a ship that’s currently sitting on the bottom of the ocean. You're asking me to repaint 'The Bloodbath at the Crimson Gate' so that it's not quite so RED."
The chef stepped towards me (which was slightly intimidating, as the chef was by no means a small or weak man…in fact he was quite large and intimidating), and all I can do was back up, the dish still in my hand, as he continued,
"You're asking me to mend the broken leg of your great, great grandfather's corpse, in the hopes that he just might one day walk again. You're asking me to take a giant killer magical lizard, and make it taste like cow."
I was running out of room to back up. Any more and I’d have been knocked right down the steps into the old basement, leaving me no choice but to steer myself back towards the dining area. The chef hardly seemed to care.
"Well then, I guess you can march right back and let your adventuring friend know that he's free to ORDER THE BLOODY COW!"
I stumbled and spun out the door, a forced smile upon my face, and a deviously crafty plan for my survival already in mind. All I needed was a one of the spare chef's smocks, a fancy hat, a pinch of black pepper, a sprig of parsley, and an attractive waitress who owed me a favor.
A few minutes later, the waitress Penelope stepped up to the adventurer, the plate of dragon meat in her hands. The smock was tied tightly around her slim figure and the fancy hat was perched perfectly upon the top of her curly brown hair. She smiled nervously as she carefully placed the dragon steak back in front of the hero (who was either Barry the Barbarian, or Dan the Druid, I'm not exactly sure). Penelope then bit her lower lip in a disgustingly adorable fashion and apologized in a soft, quivering voice,
"I'm so sorry, sir! I'm a little new, and when I heard that the meal was for you, I was so nervous that I forgot to finish adding the spices. I hope it’s all right now. I worked as hard as I could to make it perfect for you..."
Penelope practically purred the last lines as she batted her eyelashes and waited in anticipation. The adventurer gave Penelope a small smile, cut himself another piece of the slightly altered dragon steak, and then popped it into his mouth. His face was uncertain at first, but as he gazed up upon Penelope's beautiful, worried expression, his giant chin eventually broke into a smile as he announced to the entire restaurant,
Penelope was visibly overjoyed, and the evening then proceeded as normal. I wouldn't be impaled by an angry hero, the cook wouldn't serve me up as a side dish for the next client, and all was well and good until the next disaster walked into the restaurant...which was roughly half an hour later.
It was another hero, but this one was slightly different than the normal bow/sword/staff/mysterious birthmark toting kind. This was the type of hero that didn’t have stories sung about them…although they were often mentioned in the news. This was the type of hero people talked about in hushed tones. This was the type of hero that the peasants hid from until he passed by. He was the type of hero that turned the tide of battles, killed legendary beasts, and brought down kings.
To put it bluntly, he was the type of hero that wasn't actually a hero at all.
He just happened to be VERY good at killing things. In fact, he had killed enough things to become famous for it. His name was Becksley…or rather Sir Becksley, ever since some king knighted him for slaying a minotaur, a gorgon and a thorp (by the time the exact details of the third slaying reached the king, Becksley had already left).
He stepped through the main doors of our restaurant about an hour before we normally closed, his giant, leather boots landing on the floor with ominous, echoing thumps. His face was dominated by a large, black beard, although the top of his head was neatly shaven. His cheeks were littered with numerous scars that ranged in sources from claws to fangs to what might very well have been human fingernails. Most of his body was covered by a large cloak, but he let it part open wide enough to let everyone see his dark, chain mail armor, and the oversized, spiky mace that hung off the side of his belt.
The pleasant banter, that had filled the air of our restaurant only a second before, came to a sudden and abrupt halt. People quickly settled their bills and in most cases didn't bother waiting for change. Half the waitresses darted into the back and the other half undid a few of the buttons on their blouses. The elves at the main table glanced at each other, tossed some coins on the table and then literally vanished into thin air. The hostess, who was already at her wit's end, calmly walked into the women's restroom, shimmied out the window, and was never heard from again.
This left me to be the one to smile widely, step forward, extend my hand and then get elbowed straight to the floor. Sir Becksley didn't seem to even notice my fall, or he just didn't care, as he stepped over to the main table where the elves were sitting moments before. With one long swipe of his arm, he knocked its contents out of the way, onto the floor. The dark knight then gave a single snort, took a seat, and then waited to be served.
I made my way to his table in a lightning quick rush, just as he took off his cloak. I carefully took it from him, carefully hung it upon a hook on the wall, and then barely made it back in time to take his chain mail, which I carefully placed upon one of the nearby abandoned tables (right before my knees gave out from its weight). I staggered back to the only customer left in the building, as he bellowed out the inevitable word,
It wasn't a question. It wasn't a request. It wasn’t an order. It wasn't even a promise, really. It was a statement. The statement was: if dragon was served to him shortly, than life would continue as we know it. To show how serious he was, he tossed a handful of coins onto the table. The value of those coins would easily match my salary for the month. I began the regular 'dragon order' speech.
"Dragon will take no less than an entire hour to prepare sir..."
His eyes, little more than black specks hiding in the center of a hedge maze of scars, shot towards me...
I waited to see if my life would be forfeit.
His voice was calm and collected, as he wasn't the type of man to get angry. He dealt with his problems long before they had the chance to make him angry. Sir Becksley had obviously ordered dragon at least once before, and knew what was entailed. I continued my speech,
"How would you like it cooked, sir?"
Those twin black dots slid towards me again.
"Cook it as little as possible...and it better be good."
Ivins, our chef, wore a smile of triumphant resignation (the kind of smile that's worn by someone who's finally being allowed to quit) as he announced,
"We're out of dragon! He'll have to order something..."
Suddenly, outside the kitchen, there was a clamor and then a sharp feminine cry. We both turned to face the entrance to the dining area as Penelope darted through it, her face filled with shock and pain. As the door swung outwards, I saw a half spilled glass of beer on Becksley's table. The knight was chuckling to himself. As the door swung in, I glanced back at Penelope, who had a hand up to an eye that was beginning to swell. With her other hand she refastened the top buttons of her blouse. The door shifted and swung out again, allowing me to see another waitress nervously place an unspilled drink upon the dark knight’s table. Becksley snatched it up without so much as a glance, still smiling quietly to himself. The door then swung in and out one last time, but only far enough for me to catch a glimpse of the large spiked mace hanging from his belt.
By the time my attention returned to our Chef, his defeated smile was gone. This wasn’t the kind of guest that would accept disappointment, and Ivins knew that. I was already envisioning a destroyed building, partially in flames, leading me to start thinking of every crazy escape plan, trick, detour, or misdirection that might get us out of this (including a contingency plan for a small fire, if that's what it would take to live through the night).
All Chef Ivins did was look at the door to the old basement. I began to tell him my plan.
"So, we have someone shimmy out the window and run around to the front..."
Ivins stepped over to the main oven and picked up his heaviest leather apron.
"...then he runs through the door and shouts that half the town is on fire..."
He carefully tied the apron upon himself as he stepped over to the knives.
"...then we all start climbing out the back window, as you turn the ovens up to full blast..."
Chef Ivins selected the largest knife on the board, and then turned towards the pans.
"...or I could. I mean, if you didn't want to be the one to turn the ovens up, I'd gladly..."
He selected his heaviest pan. He held it in his left, as he grasped the blade in his right.
"...so anyway! We point the ovens towards the door, and we open the door just as..."
The Master Chef began walking towards the old cellar.
"...A BURST OF FLAME SHOOTS OUT! He's got to believe the place is on fire when he sees...or a REAL fire! It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of it? Let’s start an actual…sir, you can't go down there."
As much as I feared the knight outside, somehow Ivins was scarier as he growled,
"It's my damn restaurant and I'll go where I please. You mind the store."
"Sir, you can't go down there! Don't you remember why we made a new cellar? Don't you remember the long speech you gave about 'not worth the risks' and 'dangerous even at that size'..."
"THAT DAMN KNIGHT WANTS DRAGON, THEN HE'LL GET DRAGON!"
Ivins pushed forward and stepped defiantly down the dark, poorly kept stairway. I grabbed a nearby lantern and followed down closely behind him, eager to at least give him some light to work with. He didn't complain, and we made it down to the bottom at about the same time.
It amazed me how little had changed since I had last been down there. True, everything was destroyed, but you know, the rubble was all in the appropriate places. The shattered pieces of wood were where the barrels of pickled fish once stood. There were layers of broken shelves stacked on top of each other, their contents mostly ripped apart and eaten, besides the glass.
The Chef gasped suddenly and raced forward, putting his current quest on hold, as he sprinted over to the remains of the wine racks. He gave a low, hissing growl when he found that not a single ancient bottle had remained intact. His face was contorted into a fury that was usually reserved for discovering slain kings or valued family members. He placed the pan down and retrieved a lightly singed label amongst the fragments of glass. After reading the words upon it, he crushed it tightly between his fingers. Someone was going to pay.
Throughout all this, I took every moment I could to scan the shadows. It was a relatively large basement, about thirty by thirty feet (the new one was on the opposite side of the building). I wasn't the one who went down there when they first heard the crashing within this room. It was the man who trained me, Peterson. He raced downstairs, gave a not so manly scream, darted back up the stairs, ran straight over to the restaurant across town, asked if they were hiring, had a quick interview, accepted a reasonable position given his skills and current level of experience, and never spoke of the old basement again.
I, like everyone else who had been there, had heard the word the Peterson kept repeating as he took flight from the basement and restaurant. Everyone knew what was down in that basement...or at least they greatly suspected it.
I, on the other hand, knew it was a dragon, albeit a small one.
I knew it was a dragon because I knew Peterson, and knew he wouldn't say such a thing unless it was true.
Also, the dragon was staring right at me.
It was bigger than I would have liked, about the size of your average pig...and a belly to match. The creature hadn't quite gotten through to the end of the larder down there, and had apparently gorged itself to the point it could no longer fly. I assume it crawled down a hole with the intention of flying back through it, only to find it was then too heavy to make its flight back up. Despite the very well stocked larder, it couldn’t have enjoyed itself much down there, as dragons, above all else, crave fresh meat.
I didn't move. It didn't move. Warning the chef would require moving, so I didn't move. The chef began to walk further into the basement, directly away from where the overweight monster was perched. As Chef Ivins moved, he whispered towards me,
"Bring the light over here."
That would have required moving, as would telling him why I couldn’t move, and since I wasn’t moving, the dragon didn't move, so I didn't move.
"Over here, stupid."
That required moving. Sorry.
"What are you looking..."
The Master Chef suddenly went quiet as he began to realize what was happening. He gripped his makeshift weapons and shuffled forward towards me…and I really wish he hadn’t, because that was movement.
Had the beast been clean, no doubt its scales would have been a bright red, a fearsome blue, or even an unfortunate pink. As it was, you couldn’t even tell what color it was, as the wallowing and gorging in the larder had left his scales a sickly, ruddy greenish-brown. His wings expanded, but they did nothing except make its appearance that much more fearsome as it bounded towards us…well, actually just me…the chef wasn’t leaping in front to save me as I had hoped, giving me no choice but to leap back…broken glass…I mean to the side…it’ll still get my leg…I mean forward.
The dragon wasn’t quite prepared for my panicked lunge towards it, which landed me flat across its disgusting back, its wings slapping me in the face as it spun, biting at my shoes as the lantern toppled neatly onto the ground, still giving off enough light to let us see the horrible creature. Its large beak-like jaw snapped down on my left shoe and wrestled it off, checking to see if it was edible. In a sense it was, but it wasn’t quite fresh, which led it to focus on the chef, who was already halfway through his swing.
The frying pan slammed downwards, like an axe, over its head (the top facing the dragon). A swing across would have probably done more damage, but the Chef knew what was coming next.
The beast belched flames through its fearsome, fanged mouth, right into the inside of the pan, causing the flames to leap backwards into the dragon’s eyes, across its face, and right up the back of my pants. My sudden shouts of pain led the beast to rear back, hurling me off into the rubble behind him (which was just fine with me), as it clasped its maw around the edge of the pan. Chef Ivins began stabbing away with his butcher knife, but even his best blades needed to get between the scales to do any real damage. As it was, he could do little more than scratch across its hide, as his largest, heaviest pan began to bend under the dragon’s bite.
Ivins sneered, tossed down his blade and put his free hand around the monster’s thick neck. With a single yank, the Chef pulled the pan free, wound his arm back and then brought the twisted piece of iron straight down upon the fat dragon’s head as hard as he could.
This made the dragon angry.
It reared back quickly, pulling Ivins slightly off balance. The pan fell free of his hand, and clattered onto the stone floor. With a high pitched squeal, the dragon pushed the large chef straight back against the wall with a single powerful lunge forward. I tried to help, but just as I managed to quench my burning pants, a small lick of the flame spread from them to some nearby debris, and it was all I could do just to keep the basement from burning up around us.
Master Chef Ivins slammed backwards against the stone wall with enough force to almost topple it in entirely. He then slid straight down upon the scattered remains of the shattered wine bottles as he desperately tried to recapture his breath. The dragon hopped up upon him with a single small jump, and focused its fuming twisted mouth right down towards my fallen master.
Flames licked around the dragon’s lips as it sucked in a large lungful of air, reared up once more, and pushed a giant jet of flame straight out just as the Chef clasped his hands tightly around its mouth.
The dragon stopped and sputtered like a misfiring oven. The flames hit the front of its mouth, but had nowhere to go, shooting back up its nostrils, into its sinuses, and then right back down its throat. I can only imagine how hot the beast’s mouth must have been, but the Chef’s heavily calloused hands merely sizzled slightly under the heat.
The fire shot back out its lungs, back against its closed mouth and sinuses, leading to the only other path available…its stomach. The partially digested food must have burst into flames, as black smoke began to shoot out into the air, and the beast began a coughing fit that gave the Master Chef enough time to spot a single unbroken wine bottle leaning against some nearby rubble, hidden between two pieces of wood.
Chef Ivins grasped upon the bottle, reared his arm back, and then…saw the label. As he clenched his left hand tightly around the disoriented dragon’s jaw, he slowly inspected the wine bottle within his right hand, and then with the utmost care and diligence, he gently placed the bottle back down upon the rubble. After making sure the bottle was perfectly secure, the Chef clenched his right hand into a tight fist and proceeded to punch the monster directly in the throat.
I finally managed to stamp out the last of the fire as my boss shifted his weight and planted a single knee into the small of the dragon’s back, pinning it to the ground. I picked up the fallen pan, bit my lip as it burned both of my palms, and forced myself to carry it over to the Chef, who eagerly snatched it from my blistered hands.
I took a few steps back as slam after slam, accompanied by snarling shout after snarling shout echoed through the basement. I dared not say a word until both the slamming and the snarling ceased.
“Is it dead?”
The Chef stared up at me with the distinct expression that all artists wore when they spoke with amateurs.
“Are you kidding me? It isn’t even unconscious! It’s docile though, completely flat on the ground. I think I’ve shown it who’s boss.”
The Chef took a moment to catch out breath and craft a plan of action. Not even a near death experience could take his mind off the job. After a minute or so of thought, he began issuing orders,
“All right, go over there and CAREFULLY pick up that bottle of wine and then CAREFULLY bring it upstairs. Then get me an assortment of knives and a large mallet. After killing it and dicing it up, we’ll take off a few underbelly steaks…”
The Chef’s voice came to an abrupt stop. For a moment, he merely stared off into space. Eventually he continued, as his face began to tighten up,
“Which we’ll cook at nearly volcanic temperatures…and prepare with the utmost care and skill…”
A sudden sharpness within the Chef’s voice gave me pause. That familiar vein on his forehead was beginning to throb again, as he continued,
“…and I’ll produce another DAMN dragon steak for another DAMN ungrateful customer who will whine about it not being DAMN good enough because dragon meat is DAMN awful…”
Master Chef Ivins wasn’t exactly being loud, but every word he spoke was positively dripping with bitterness and rage. To the submissive dragon’s surprise, the Chef clamped his hands around its mouth and then lifted his knee off its back. It wasn’t exactly pinned anymore, but at the same time it wasn’t about to try anything. Ivins pointed his free hand at me and then snarled through clenched teeth,
“…and at that point he might get a little DAMN violent, but more likely he just won’t pay a DAMN thing for the meal…”
The way he implied it, it sounded as if the Chef was angrier at the thought of not being paid than he was at violence. He slapped his free hand down on the confused dragon’s belly, and then practically screamed,
“AND THEN I WON’T HAVE A SINGLE DAMN THING TO SHOW FOR THIS EXCEPT THE LEFTOVER REMAINS OF DAMN HALF EATEN…”
Ivin’s expression, without warning, went immediately from ‘fuming with rage’ to ‘completely calm and placid’ as he asked,
“How did he want his steak cooked?”
“Your steak will be ready in just a single moment, Sir.”
Becksley didn’t pay any interest as to why my clothers were filthy, singed and smelling of sulfur. He merely grunted and then gave a mean smile towards the waitresses, who were all huddled in the corner, as far away as possible from the knight. I leaned forward and mentioned, in my most polite and formal voice,
“As requested, our Master Chef has cooked the dragon very little.”
The black knight turned his bemused expression towards me, glanced up and down my destroyed outfit, and then muttered, as his eyes narrowed to a squint,
“If it isn’t perfect, then you’re dead.”
Once again, it was not a threat, command or promise. He was just letting me know how things were going to be.
“You got that, kid?”
Years of practice allowed my smile to stay frozen in place, as I assured him,
“I can say sir, with absolute certainty, that it is humanly impossible for our Chef to have cooked your meal any less.”
Sir Becksley locked his gaze upon me, but seemed momentarily satisfied. His large, gloved hand grasped upon his mug of beer and he downed it in one gulp just as the kitchen door swung open, and Chef Ivins stepped out. He wore as wide as smile as I’ve ever seen him give.
Becksley turned slightly towards the Chef, looking through the bottom of the glass mug as he finished his drink. The knight shifted his eyes down towards the chefs hands, eager to get a look at his meal.
It looked back at him.
For a short moment (which I treasure with all my heart), Sir Becksley and the chubby dragon grasped within Chef Ivins’s arms just stared back and forth at each other, through the bottom of that glass mug.
By the time reality finally reached Becksley’s brain, he spit a long, sputtering spray of beer directly into the dragon’s face.
Dragons that young are never too smart, but even a beast of a limited intelligence can tell when a bad situation had gone completely too far. That was it. That was the last straw.
The beast screeched and erupted flames, and the effects were nothing short of disastrously hilarious. Becksley’s glass shattered and burst from the heat, spraying small shards of broken glass over half his body…by no means fun, but not deadly, or even enough to take his attention away from the fact that his beard was fully on fire and that blisters now covered over half his face.
The shock and the pain sent the knight toppling backwards onto his back, sprawled out in a way that was so absolutely hilarious that I almost forgot to slip off his spiked mace and toss it across the room.
Like a delightful cherry perched on top of an elegant dessert, Master Chef Ivins completed the perfect scene by casually tossing the dragon onto Sir Becksley’s chest.
I really wish Penelope was there to see that, but unfortunately she was far too busy untying Becksley’s horse and spooking it away.
Within a few moments (a few GLORIOUSLY horrible moments), our hungry knight was toppling out the front door, crawling his way towards the main road on all fours, too terrified to slow down for even a second, lest the small, furious dragon catch up with him.
The ruddy, fat monster lunged out the door only a moment behind him, all too eager to catch up with the focus of his rage.
The last I saw of Sir Becksley was the back of his smoldering clothes as he ran directly back the way he came, with that wonderful, bouncing, magical lizard snapping at his heels every single step of the way.
By the time I made my way back in, the coins were gone from the table and the only waitress left was Penelope. Her eye was beginning to blacken, but I don’t recall ever seeing her happier. Without a word, the fair lass stepped over to my side, planted a single kiss upon my left cheek, and then with what distinctly sounded like a jingle of coins in her pocked, skipped right out the door.
I wanted to leave…in fact I wanted to sleep for twenty-four hours, but I had to check on the Chef first. I found him in the kitchen, fishing a corkscrew out of a drawer as he smiled at the recovered bottle of wine. With a flick of his wrist, Ivins screwed out the cork, checked it, gave a smug nod, and then joyfully tossed the tool aside.
I hated to be a mood killer, but I had to ask,
“What should I do if Sir Becksley comes back?”
Master Chef Ivins didn’t seem too concerned. After the fight with the dragon, I imagine it’d take quite a lot to ever concern him again. He merely shrugged and casually replied,
“Nothing. We’re closed.”
With the bottle in hand, the Chef slowly descended the basement steps, eager to begin a very well deserved break.