Gall thunked her third glass of mead down on the table and stared across it at her partner. “You’ve never cooked for yourself? Not once?”
“Why would I?” Derik glowered at her, taking umbrage at her extreme disbelief. “More to the point: when would I? My time was thoroughly occupied with studying, then raising a dragonet, then being a dragonrider.”
Frowning in skepticism, she held out her hands as though to encompass a simple object. “But it’s, like, a basic life skill.”
He snorted. “It’s called division of labor. I sing, they cook; I fly, they cook; I mission, they cook.” He indicated Rudi’s kitchen with a gesture.
“But . . . you never even cooked out or anything? You know, meat on a stick, fire, something even the biggest, dumbest idiot should be able to do without totally screwing it up?”
“With that attitude, I suppose you’re some sort of culinary expert.” He chuckled, plainly very amused with the notion.
Gall regarded him quite seriously. “My father and I lived in exile for eight years. You met my father. Who do you think made that whole thing work?”
That gave him pause. “Well, all right, but feeding yourself isn’t the same as cooking. Like you said, any idiot can roast meat on a stick, right?”
She rolled her eyes. “Freya’s tits. That’s it. You. Me. General Store. Now.”
“What? But—” He gestured to the half-finished food and drinks on the table, but Gall was already up and tugging on his arm.
“All right, all right!” He downed the last half of his ale as he rose and just managed to get the glass back on the table upright as he was dragged out of the pub.
Twenty minutes later, Derik found himself sitting in the moon-lit Courtyard with his sleeves rolled up and his fingers sunk into a mound of barley and wheat flour on a flat, freshly scrubbed rock. A small fire, courtesy of Fellrazer, gave additional light. Occasionally, a horse or a wolf would wander by to see what was going on, but the presence of the dragon, curled up on a patch of ground he’d toasted to a comfortable warmth, discouraged them from getting too close.
Gall hovered at Derik’s elbow, watching his progress. “Okay, you’ve got your flax, your lard, and my personal very secret ingredients that you will not share with anyone on pain of asskicking. Now just work it until it comes together—carefully! If you mess up that well, your bread is screwed. Here, look. Like this.”
She pushed up her own sleeves and slid her fingers in with his. Derik followed her guidance, and together they pulled the dry ingredients into the wet, first mixing, then kneading. Their hands got slick with the grease and flax, and slid easily over each other. After a few minutes, they had a uniform round of dough.
“There. That’s good.” Gall nodded, then gave him one of those looks, like she expected or hoped for something from him.
After a moment spent deciding how to respond, Derik folded his hands in his lap and said, “So now what?”
Gall shrugged. “It rests overnight, and we get fresh, hot bread in the morning.”
“Really.” Derik raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see an oven.”
“You don’t lug an oven around on a raid, genius.” She punched his shoulder for his quibble. “It bakes on a rack over the fire, or you wrap it around a stick. In this case, stick-bread. Only one rack to be had around here, and it ain’t for baking.” She grinned.
Derik’s mind resolutely sidled around the come-on. “In the meantime, we’ve got a lump of dough sitting on a rock in the middle of the Courtyard. What’s the plan for that?”
“Wanna camp out?”
“You don’t get enough of that on missions?”
“That’s because we have to. This is because we want to. It’s totally different.”
Try as he might, Derik couldn’t fault her logic. And it was nice to be safe from Suvians or rogue time skips under a wide, starry sky, even if it was fake. He couldn’t think why he didn’t come here more often.
“You don’t think it’ll get too cold?” he said.
“Well, if it does,” Gall started eagerly, and then, with a visible effort, turned the remark in a different direction. She’d tried the spooning for warmth tactic before, to no avail. “I’ve got Fellrazer,” she finished. “Anyway, it’s not like we’re in the Archipelago or somewhere it gets proper cold. This is nothing.”
“True enough. All right, I suppose I don’t mind. And in the morning, we’ll see if this recipe of yours actually turns out edible.” He got up to go wash off in the nearby stream.
Gall sprang up after him and gave him a shove, setting him off-balance for a step. “No, we’ll see if you aren’t a completely pathetic waste of space when it comes to practical skills.”
Once recovered, he shoved back. “I have many practical skills.”
“Oh yeah? Name one.”
“Nah, that’s a fancy-pants Harper skill. Try again.”
This continued while they scrubbed the fat off their hands and while Gall wrapped the bread dough in the empty barley flour package. Finally, they settled down on the grass under a large elm tree and went to sleep.
In the morning, there was fresh, hot bread on a stick, it was indeed edible, and both partners considered it time well spent.