DISCLAIMER All mine
NOTES Chapter is not moving. Suspecting that not having been inside Kurae's head for ages is perhaps part of the problem, I decided to write something completely unrelated with him to see if that jogs anything. This came remarkably easy, though, so now my suspicion is more the story than the character. Something needs prodding. Anyway. This one's about potatoes. Because potatoes are awesome.
Potatoes were fantastic. The most versatile of foods, they could be mashed and made luxuriously smooth with cream, baked to make the skin crispy and beautiful, chopped up to add bulk to a stew. Kurae’s favourite method was to cut them into long, chunky fingers and bake them. He could never do it properly on missions, never had enough room for all the ingredients or the time required that would take them to the next level. All he could do then was salt them, stick them in the iron mini-oven to bury them under the coals of the fire and hope it was hot enough to crisp them up. Usually they worked out well enough, but they were nothing like what he could make at home.
The water over the fire was just starting to bubble as he heard footsteps behind him. Chopping board poised over the boiling water, ready to slide the sliced potato into the pot, Kurae turned to his doorman.
Irath gave a small smirk and a nod at his employer’s prudence. He liked to cook, too. It was ultimately why Kurae had hired him.
‘Palace messenger, sir,’ Irath announced with a one-shouldered shrug of apology. ‘She insisted on speaking with you directly.’
Kurae sighed and dropped head and shoulders just a little, not because his potatoes would have to wait but because there could only be one of two messages that couldn’t be entrusted to his doorman, no matter how much he insisted the opposite.
‘Watch those,’ he rumbled as he slid the potatoes into the pot with the back of the knife. He’d be back before he needed to take them out, but it was always worth taking precautions. He grabbed a tea towel to wipe his fingers as he strode back inside the house and through to the front door. It had better not be a mission brief, he muttered silently. Would Rau be inconsiderate enough to call a mission briefing when everyone was getting dinner organised?
He pulled the front door open with that thought in mind. The messenger started backwards a little before dropping into a short bow, probably as much to hide her startled expression as out of protocol. Kurae tried to soften his features a little before she straightened again.
‘My apologies for interrupting, sir,’ she said, her voice controlled once more as she eyed the tea towel flung over Kurae’s shoulder.
Kurae shrugged. ‘Your message?’
‘Yes. From General Rau. There’s to be an Own Challenge beginning tomorrow. You’ll be the fifth to be challenged in five days’ time, and are required promptly at high noon on that day at General Rau’s office. You’re welcome to attend all other challenges, each scheduled to begin at noon for the next seven days. The challenger is Nimay.’
Kurae could have just about recited the summons word for word himself, he’d heard it that many times, but the name of the challenger lifted his eyebrows.
‘Thanks,’ he rumbled. Normally he’d leave it at that, but even he couldn’t help asking more of the messenger. ‘That’s the girl who just graduated last year?’
‘That’s her,’ the messenger confirmed, as if there was another Nimay on the Own’s horizon. ‘Good luck, sir.’ She almost turned to go, but hesitated for a moment, clearly with a question of her own on her tongue. ‘Do you really think she has magic?’
Kurae shrugged again. ‘Irrelevant,’ he answered. He knew she did, but he knew just as well that she never used it in a swordfight. ‘Thanks,’ he said again.
The messenger dipped her head once more and took her leave.
While Kurae never took much interest in where the competition was coming from, there were a handful of Own riders who took bets on who they’d next be facing. To Kurae’s knowledge, Nimay hadn’t featured strongly in anyone’s predictions. They all knew of her, of course, how quick and agile she was, speculation on what she could do with that yrae feather of hers, but the general consensus was that she was still too young and not yet physically strong enough to challenge the Own. She definitely would in three or four years, but now?
Kurae slouched back out through the kitchen to the cook fire, where Irath was impatiently waiting, watching the boiling potatoes.
‘Own challenge,’ Kurae announced to put him out of his misery. ‘I’m day five again.’
‘That’s a relief,’ the doorman said with a smile that mirrored his words. He always got more nervous than Kurae did for a mission. ‘Can I ask who the challenger is?’
‘Nimay,’ the swordsman supplied. He took the saucepan from the fire and poured the water through a strainer. With deft fingers that spoke of his profession, he began picking the hot slices of potato from the strainer and arranging them on an oven tray.
‘Nimay?’ the doorman repeated. ‘But she’s just a girl.’
Kurae shrugged, pausing to shake his finger and suck on them where the potato had started burning through his calluses. ‘Rau sees something in her. Salt and cumin? And olive oil, the chili one.’
Irath darted back into the kitchen and emerged a few moments later with bottle, jar and grinder. ‘But even if she were to get in,’ he argued, ‘you’d take a girl with you on a mission?’
‘Mmm.’ Kurae drizzled the olive oil over his chips, the warm scent of it rising on the steam from the potatoes. ‘Not my decision to make.’
‘Well,’ the doorman said with a helpless shrug. ‘For her sake, you’d better beat her.’
Kurae’s lip curled in a tight smirk as he ground the salt. ‘There’s a change.’
‘Temporary,’ Irath quickly corrected. ‘Maybe there’ll be another challenge before the next mission.’
‘Could be.’ He sprinkled the cumin seeds over, a light, crunchy scattering of them. Cumin had been his favourite spice as soon as he’d learned its name. It was always the first he sought out in the Kazinian markets. Someday, he hoped the rest of Raykin would catch onto spices. His first journey to Kazin had been a true nostril-opener.
Hands on hips, he stared critically at the suddenly meagre offering of chips. Melraan, Rumal and Ulkar would be around as soon as they’d finished dinner. Kurae doubted his own chips would be ready by then. They took a while to get properly crispy on the outside.
‘I’m going to need more potatoes,’ he muttered.