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Christmas Goose

Continued from The Family Jewels.

The large kitchen was in a state of controlled chaos, nearly every surface was hosting some part of the preparation for the evening’s feast: pies cooling, roots chopped, puddings resting, pastries rolled out but not yet filled, pots and pans sizzled and grumbled on the stove and Maggie flitted between them in a dance that had become as familiar to Tenk over the past few years as the sound of New Babbage’s clocks.

“There we are,” said Maggie, as she tucked the last of the peeled and polished potatoes under the pair well dressed birds. “Geese a-laying, all ready for the oven.”

Tenk crossed his arms and stared at the pan as it was about to go in. “Aren’t there supposed to be six of them?” He asked critically.

“You shut your trap, Mosseveno Tenk, or you’ll get naught but stones and pinches for dinner.” Maggie declared, brandishing a wooden spoon at him. She lifted the pan into the oven and shut it and spat on the door, listening to the hiss to be sure the temperature was right.

Through the archway that led to the rest of the barrow male and female voices mingled and joked, the whole of Odnar’s prodigious family, it seemed, was gathered. Laughter rolled into the room and Maggie turned at the sound of it.

“They don’t like me.” She said into a pot as she dipped a spoon in to taste what boiled there. She picked up a handful of dried rosemary and crushed it into the pot and gave it a good stir.

“Everyone likes you, Maggie.” Tenk reached for one of the pies but before he’d even gotten a finger to the crust Maggie whacked his hand with a spoon.

“Make yerself useful afore I banish you from me kitchen.” She commanded, and handed him a knife and pushed him toward a mound of carrots. Tenk obliged, albeit a little clumsily.

“It was always all the girls in the kitchen. Lord, the noise of it! Six o’ us would churn butter at a time on feast days. Ma always trussed the geese herself. We’d sing, my sisters and me, the men would be outside the windows and they’d sing back at us.” Maggie hummed a few notes and got a hazy look in her eyes, looking around the kitchen as if she’d suddenly discovered she was lost. “And the dancing after…”

“Maggie.” Tenk’s voice was a warning and she shook herself at the sound of it, memory dropping away like a magpie drops a bauble that’s lost its shine.

“Ah! I nearly forgot!” Maggie plucked her tall top hat from her head and reached inside of it. She pulled out a small wrapped parcel and held it out at Tenk. “A Merry Christmas, Mayor.”

Tenk put the knife aside and took the parcel from her and gave it a little shake next to his ear.

“Open it, ye daft wee man.”

Inside the wrapping was a little carved wooden seagull. It had been rubbed to a high shine and when Tenk lifted it to his nose he could smell the lanolin that Maggie had rubbed into it. Tenk held it up, clearly puzzled. Maggie laughed.

“It’s a riddle. The answer’s the gift. I expect it’ll take ye a while.” Tenk looked insulted and pleased at the same time. They both leaned over the little carving. In Tenk’s hand it was light as air and so real he half expected the wooden figure to turn white and fly away.

A noise from the doorway drew their attention. Odnar’s three nieces stood in the door and as soon as they saw they were spied then turned three pairs of suspicious eyes on Maggie and stalked away. Maggie frowned after them. “Harpies.”

But a moment later her frown was gone as Odnar came in looking very jolly, his cheeks red from smiling and maybe from more than a small amount of mead as he went directly to Maggie and scooped her up and spun her round and began to dance with her to a music only he could hear. Maggie threw her head back and laughed and let herself be carried around and around before she thwacked Odnar on the shoulder.

“Oy, if yer in the kitchen then yer helping or get out!” Odnar attempted to look abashed but couldn’t quite wipe the smile from his face as Maggie pushed him toward a rolling pin.

Tenk watched the two and pocketed his seagull. It was a good match, he supposed, and, spying the harpies peering into the room and frowning, he decided he might need to do something to see that the match took.


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