With special guest chef, Akmenos son of Bane
Welcome to Day 5 of your sneak peek at my special 5-Course Wild Magical Banquet menu!
By now, you’ll have started leaning back in your chair, hunger tickled but not yet sated, and you’ll be taking a long draught from your tankard, while looking at the tapestries on the walls, hanging above the green lampshades. In their weird light, you will have noticed the scenes of epic derring-do, so fraught with peril it almost seems too dangerous to have committed these images to hessian and yarn. Leaping flames so very fierce it’s surprising the tapestries don’t turn to ash by the very nature of their narrative. Villains and heroes so much more real than they have any right to be.
Those are my stories up there, with perhaps just a little embellishment. You have to admit, that heroic hornung with the shield and the pepper grinder cuts quite the striking figure, even if he’s a little less plump than ought to be lifelike.
So hard to find good artists, who will stick to the truth of the thing instead of trying to hide it behind what an audience has come to see. Ah well. Enjoy the melodrama, but when the night grows long, mayhap we shall sit in the warmth of my little corner of the world, and share a pipe, and I will tell you how it all really came about. Indeed. Now, do you smell that? The freshness of the bread, the wildness of meat sizzling over open flames? The main meals are rolling out. This is the part of the evening you’ve really been waiting for.
Bearing mind that now could be the perfect time to try your hand at wild magical cookery, since Omnium Gatherum, fine purveyor and literature dark and twisted, is offering you, dear reader, a free copy of a certain tome, recounting my latest adventures, entitled Sons of the Curse, for the mere act of recreating my recipes yourself, and somehow painting them in invisible fragments of light on this infernal window. To learn more, click your clicking thing on this scrawl of letters.
Main Course: Meat Dish the First
Dire Wolf Bread Stacks
Who needs dire wolves? Yes, OK, hobgoblins who ride them back and forth between the farm and the market need them, just like regular folk need horses. But no-one else needs dire wolves!
Yes, OK, those farmsteaders out in the hinterlands of the Southern Reaches, so wild that even the wolves are considered tame by comparison, those people so hard and brutal that the dire wolves cleave to them as kindred spirits, and together they carve a life out of the snow-driven wastes, also might need their wolves. But they’re kind of weird, so they don’t count. Stop contradicting me. Who, I say, needs dire wolves?
What? That’s ridiculous? What even is an apex predator? And how can “keeping the deer population under control so they don’t eat the entire forest” possibly be a thing, at all? I beg your pardon? What is this science of which you speak? Never heard of it. Go eat your ecology if you like it so much.
No more questions. The answer is, dire wolves are big, smelly, pesky, a bit scary, and their howling always used to keep me awake at night, back in Kriikan, before… Well, you know. Before I had to run away because of that elf keeling over at the banquet table, and… And what followed.
In any case, dire wolves. Any good forest patrol ought to bring one in at least every couple of days, and although they’re a bit stringy, you can put the whole carcass through a mincer and come out with a good load of ground wolf mince, which you can do all sorts of things with. It’s like meat-clay, and you, the cook, are the sculptor. Get that meat in your hands, and turn it into art for the mouth.
Also, I know no-one does this, but: I fry the meat and put it in between a sliced bun. I know, right? It’s going to be some sort of trend, you watch. Maybe not as big as Akmenos-Bread, but still, it’ll have its day.
I give you: Dire Wolf Bread Stacks!
Hand-made Bread Buns
300g Hi-Grade Flour
200g Semolina Flour
2 T Surebake Yeast
1 T Sugar
1 t Salt
315mls tepid water
Dire Wolf Mince Patties
200g Dire Wolf Mince (You can always use beef mince, but it just doesn’t have the same taste of danger about it)
Freshly Ground Salt and Pepper
1 Large Free Range Egg
1 T Worcester Sauce
1/2 t Paprika
1/2 t Dried Mixed Herbs
1 t Mustard Powder
2 T Potato Starch
Hand-made Bread Buns
Mix all ingredients together. If you don’t have Surebake Yeast, which I use in this strange whirring contraption Araxtheon threw at me one day to get me out of his kitchen, and which does all the hard work, you’ll need to prepare your yeast with warm water and sugar before adding it to the dry ingredients.
If you don’t have a magic contraption like mine that mixes the dough, then knead it and knead it and knead it and knead it. At least 10 minutes. Don’t stop. I’ll be checking, and I still have that whip around here somewhere if I see you slacking.
Once the dough is done with being kneaded, leave it somewhere warm to rise for an hour. Now roll the dough out on a floured bench, into a long snake, and cut into a decent number of round clumps. Place these on some of the paper you stole from the library, on an oven tray, and put back in your warm place to rise.
While it’s doing this, make your dire wolf meat patties (see below).
After an hour or so, get your kiln up to a good heat (about 200 degrees C or 290 F, whatever that means), and bake the buns for 20 minutes. You’ll know when they’re done, because if you tap the bottom they’ll sound hollow.
If anyone tries tapping my bottom to see if I’m hollow, I swear I will hit you with my spatula.
Move the buns onto a wire cooling rack to, erm, cool. This will stop the bottom going soggy.
Dire Wolf Mince Patties
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Get your fingers in there, squash it all together, get those flavours mixed in. Art for the mouth, remember?
Shape into patties using a couple of spoons drenched in flour, and lay on a floured plate until you’re ready to start cooking.
In a lovely big heavy iron skillet, the sort that might be mistaken for a murder weapon if the head chef was mysteriously found with a broken skull at the bottom of the dry store pantry (not that I’ve ever fantasised about that), fry the patties for about 10 mins on each side in hot oil, with a chopped onion cooking around the sides of the pan.
Place a slice of cheese on top of each patty for the last 8 mins of cooking, to melt.
Slice the buns, butter and dress with mayonnaise, sauce, relish, sour cream, aioli, plum sauce, spider mash, or whatever you prefer, and layer in lettuce, tomato slices, a dire wolf mince patty, some of the cooked onion, cucumber slices, and pickled beets.
And when you’re done with that lot, ask yourself this question, one more time: Who needs dire wolves? We all need dire wolves! Because we all want more Dire Wolf Bread Stacks!
Akmenos, son of Bane, has only occasionally been mistaken for a wolf, and even then not because of how dire he looked but more because of his puppy eyes. Follow his adventures in Brothers of the Knife, Book 1 of the Children of Bane series, and Book 2, Sons of the Curse. Once you’re done chasing him around the kitchen trying to tap his hollow bottom, he plans to get back to pottering in the kitchen, smoking his pipe (if only he could find it), and drinking tea.
Dan Rabarts vehemently denies that this recipe may have been originally posted on his cooking blog, Freshly Ground, several years ago, and that Akmenos has plagiarised his work for his own gain.
If you’d like to know why Akmenos harbours mildly homicidal urges towards his (former) head chef, read below the tag for Chapter 2 of Brothers of the Knife, where Akmenos’ quiet life is turned upside-down, forever.
“Cinnamon, you fool, not cardamom!”
Akmenos flinched as steam boiled around him, the masala’s fragrant fumes filling his nose and stinging his eyes. Tossing the pan in one gnarled hand, he grabbed a spoon and tried to scoop out the errant pods before they burst in the heat, infusing the meat with their hot edge. Personally, Akmenos liked a spot of cardamom to spice up a meal, but he was cook, not chef. If he ruined another masala, Skerrl would lash him bloody with a mixing ladle of hardest blazewood. Lifting the pan from the heat, he extracted the pods from among the anise, nutmeg, cloves, sweetroot and rosemary stalks, and dropped them into the scullery sink. Satisfied, Akmenos returned the pan to the hotplate and reached for the butter to loosen up the masala again.
A hand gripped his wrist.
“Ghee, you imbecile. Never use raw butter in a masala. Why have I been lumbered with such an idiot?”
Akmenos bit his tongue. He preferred the smoky texture of real butter to the oily slick of the clarified stuff Skerrl insisted on using. It was an error he couldn’t have undone with a spoon. “Yes, chef,” he muttered, replacing the butter and reaching for the ghee.
One day, I will be chef, and I will use all the butter I want in my damned masala. One day I will be lord of this whole damned fortress, the whole valley as far as the eye can see, and then I will sleep and dream in butter, and I’ll write my kingly writs by the light of burning ghee. One day, Skerrl will cook for me.
A load of bollocks, and he knew it, but it didn’t hurt to pretend.
Later, as the servants delivered the spoils of the kitchen’s toils to the feasting halls, Akmenos stumped out to the lower balcony to catch a cool breath. He rubbed a sweaty hand over his knobbled horns, greasy with the muck of frying ghee. The sun had just set, leaving the mountain air crisp. The night rang with the sound of fiddles and horns, laughter and dance, as the assembled nobles enjoyed the feast, another political dinner to add to the many that had been held in the castle over the past few months. In the world beyond Kriikan, where armies roamed and wild things stalked, everything was changing. The fortunes of his nation shifted and slid like bay leaves in an oily pan. Where the Hornung empire would find itself when the flames finally leapt from the fire to the frying pan would be determined by the manoeuvrings of her armies in the field, and those of Emperor Rathrax in the feasting hall above. This is why Akmenos mattered, and why Skerrl was willing to flog him raw if he failed to deliver the most sumptuous of dishes to Rathrax’s table every night.
Or so said Skerrl. Akmenos wasn’t convinced. He doubted the fops who dined with Rathrax even tasted their food, too busy watching their opponent across the table while hiding behind a polite interest in the plated offerings.
He pulled his pipe from his inner pocket and tapped a handful of cloveweed into the bowl, sparking it with a flick of his oily nails and a simple cantrip. Puffing on the glowing leaves, he schemed, daydreamed. He may have been a warlock initiate, and his father head of the Warlock Coven, but Akmenos was the youngest of the children of Bane, being the last of his clutch of brothers to have cracked the shell of his egg. Growing up, he hadn’t performed particularly well at his lessons and, unlike his brothers, it quickly became clear that he would never be more than a lowly acolyte. For his talents or lack thereof, he had been ‘honoured’ to serve in the emperor’s kitchens, destined one day to stand, as did Skerrl, at the horned regent’s side while he ate and drank and wiped slop on his sleeves, dogs slavering at the scraps, while the kitchen staff subsisted on the leftovers. Akmenos shuddered. Much as he loved both the cooking and the eating, sometimes he fancied himself a warlock, in amongst the blood and the rage at the front lines. Taur and elf and dwarf and man, all the ancient foes of Hornung, would fall to his power, and he would know glory. Although, to be fair, war did sound like quite a lot of hard work. But that world was far away, beyond the Skullspine Mountains. Hornung was as safe as the rocky fastness that nestled Castle Kriikan in her arms. Akmenos sighed and puffed smoke.
The scream cut through the night like a cleaver through a block of lard. Akmenos looked to the windows overhead. The music had ceased, and a confused hubbub roiled from the banquet hall, along with the clatter of armed soldiers running. Akmenos grinned. At last, something was actually happening. Someone had brought the war to the hornung.
A servant rushed into the kitchen, the small bells on her horns jangling. Akmenos tapped out his pipe and stuffed it back into his pocket. “Hey,” he called from the balcony, “what’s going on?”
The younger hornung didn’t stop, vanishing into the tunnels beneath the castle.
Akmenos slipped back into the kitchen and into the service passage, hurrying up the narrow spiral staircase and into one of the secret eaves that allowed serving staff access to the feasting hall. He peeked around the corner and his breath caught in his throat.
A hundred hornung warriors ringed the vaulted chamber, their wicked halberds glinting in the torchlight. Dishes and food lay scattered, spilt wine pooling on the floor. The guests cowered at their seats in terror, apparently stricken by the tableau at the head of the room. Emperor Rathrax was throttling someone on the table before him. Another body, an elf by the looks, lay slumped beside Rathrax, surrounded by elven warriors, their fine steel blades naked and bright. Akmenos’ father, Bane the Cursemaster, and his mother Arah, Head Seeress of the Coven, sat but a few chairs down from the assault unfolding before them. The Emperor’s mighty gilded horns jerked up and down as he lifted his victim and slammed him into the table, rattling mugs and cutlery.
Akmenos had a sudden pressing urge to be elsewhere, anywhere but here. The dignitary had apparently been poisoned. Rathrax’s suspicions—or his rage—had flown immediately to the chef, even though Skerrl had neither the gumption nor the imagination to contemplate any such act of treachery, much less carry it out in full view of the emperor and stand at his side while the murder took place. Rathrax was not renowned for his subtlety or evenness of temper. Skerrl would surely lie to save his own hide, and Akmenos would no doubt make a suitable scapegoat.
He glanced at his mother and she met his gaze, her eyes wide with questions. Then Akmenos ran, decisions popping inside his skull like corn in a hot pan. He burst through the kitchen, knocking down pots and crockery as he charged towards the balcony, pausing only to grab his cloak off the peg and clasp it around his neck. It was chilly outside, and he didn’t handle the cold terribly well.
He couldn’t hide in the castle depths; there would be nowhere the Coven could not find him if he were suspected of murdering the visiting nobleman. He burst onto the balcony, decision made: he would leap from the rail and make his escape. Below him was a narrow courtyard and, beyond that, the lower walls of the inner keep. The city proper extended for a mile or so before the outer keep walls held back the night. He clambered onto the rail, teetering there, the space yawning under him, cold with sudden doubt. Maybe he was being hasty. He was only one cook, after all, and Skerrl had several working for him. But none did he hate so much as he hated Akmenos. Akmenos would be the bloody sacrifice, he was certain.
Armour crashed down the stairwell, spears and swords bursting into the kitchen.
“Akmenos!!” yelled a helmeted soldier. His brother Fraag, who served in the emperor’s personal guard. “Don’t move!”
Akmenos sucked his teeth, all doubt swept away. Blood would mean nothing to his brother. Blood could not buy him mercy.
Brothers of the Knife, Chapter 2, Book 1 of the Children of Bane, by Dan Rabarts (Omnium Gatherum, 2019)