Haute Cuisine by Gregg Chamberlain [fantasy]

Imprint - Fantasy Imprint Logo 200wHaute Cuisine by Gregg Chamberlain

In the grey gloom of the hour before dawn, a three-headed troll slouched uphill towards its cave. Dark clouds in the overcast sky promised rain, which suited the troll’s sour mood.

“Bloody waste of a night,” grumbled the right-hand head. “Nothin’ to show for all that work but one scrawny carcass.”

The center head nodded in agreement, while the one on the far left snorted and rolled his eyes before turning a bit to check and make sure the troll’s left hand had a firm grip on the half-naked man, tied up with strips of cloth and leather, draped still and silent over a shoulder. Tucked under the troll’s right arm, chinking and clinking with every step, was a mass of broken Aesir mail.

Ducking down to enter the cave, the troll paused for a moment to glance around. Grunting in satisfaction at seeing no sign of intruders or unwelcome visitors, the troll let its burden slide down off its shoulder and drop to the floor. A shove of one big foot sent the still-unconscious man sliding further inside the cave, fetching up against one of the damp walls. A fling of the troll’s right arm sent the mess of mail flying also, to land clashing and chiming on the cave floor close by.

“Hunh unnnh” grunted the right-hand head as the troll twisted, then shoved an arm behind its back and stretched until there came a loud crack. “Oh, that’s better.” It plopped down where it stood, then, after a moment, lifted up one foot, set that across a knee, and began massaging with both hands between the horny, callused toes.

“Ah, that’s nice that is,” murmured the center head. The left-hand head nodded, eyes half-closed.

“Bloody feet ache all the time,” muttered the right-hand head.

The left-hand head scoffed. “Complain, complain, complain,” he growled. “All the time with you, Hagrumb, it’s moan, moan, moan. You don’t hear us grousing now, do yeh?”

“He wouldn’t hear us anyway, Hegrumb,” said the center head.

“True enough, Hogrumb,” agreed Hegrumb, smirking. “He’d never shut up long enough to listen.”

The right-hand head glared at his siblings. “Maybe I should be shutting you lot up,” Hagrumb threatened, looking down where the hands were now massaging the other foot. The fingers of the left hand stopped working away between two toes, clenched into a tight fist, then froze just as the arm started to lift up.

Hagrumb grunted, eyes squinting, staring at the fist. But it refused to move any further. “Aw, nobbles to both of ya, fine then, I give up,” he grumbled, glancing over at his sibling heads. “Always ganging up on me, you two are, and don’t give me that ‘Who, me?’ look, Hogrumb, ’cause you bloody well knows what I mean.”

Turning away from his siblings—the one smiling sheepishly, the other sneering and snorting—Hagrumb watched as both hands resumed their massage work. “Well, then,” he said at last. “What we gonna do for dinner tonight?”

Hegrumb’s ragged mouth pursed in thought. Hogrumb jerked his head over at a small piece of wood shoved into the dirt of a cave wall that served as a shelf for a single book. “Let’s try a new recipe,” he said.

The other two heads each turned towards their middle sibling. “It’s just us here,” growled Hegrumb. “Why go to all that trouble?”

“Yeah,” agreed Hagrumb. “Be different if we had us some company. Not that anyone ever comes to visit.”

“And who’s to blame for that?” retorted Hogrumb. “You bit the head off the last person came to see us before she even had a chance to say ‘hello’.”

“That were just one o’ those wretched old hags an’ it weren’t my fault,” answered Hagrumb. “She startled me, sneaking up from behind like that. Yer knows I don’t like being surprised.”

“Got a point, Hagrumb does,” conceded Hegrumb. “She did come up on us sly-like. No ‘view, halloo’ ner nothin’.”

“Well, it has been a right muck of a night, I agree,” argued Hogrumb, “and something a bit special is just the thing we all need, I’m thinking.”

The other two heads muttered a bit, but made no further objections. The troll got to its feet, went over to the shelf and picked up the well-worn copy of Childe’s Guide to Fine Dining laying there. It stood, leafing through the pages, each head studying the pictures for the recipes as they flicked past.

“We could try this ‘Oliver’s Buttermilk Roast Chicken’,” suggested Hagrumb.

Hogrumb shook his head. “Now that’s no good. You know very well I’m lactose intolerant!”

More pages flipped.

“Here’s a possible,” exclaimed Hegrumb. “Boeuf Bourguignon Bordeaux.”

Hagrumb squinted at the page and grimaced. “Red wine gives me awful migraines.”

“We could always do a nice Tuscan ragoût,” Hogrumb mumbled. The other two heads turned and glared at him.

“After six nights of mutton stew?” Hegrumb scowled. “I don’t think so.”

All three heads sighed.

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Hagrumb grumbled.

“And after all that hard work, what with the tenderizing and the peeling,” groused Hegrumb, examining one set of skinned knuckles.

All three heads looked over at the battered and bruised Aesir, now awake and aware, huddled against the dank cave wall. Bound and gagged, shivering and quivering beside the broken remains of his armor, he tried in vain to make himself smaller and less noticeable.

“Right then, fellows,” declared Hogrumb. “Looks like it’s sushi tonight!”

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