By Michael B. Tager
Welcome to Spec Script, where author Michael B. Tager delves into the unexplored from your (or his) favorite television shows.
Hot Pie enticed nearby birds with leftover pie filling. Today he had blue berry remnants, though blueberries were scarce. Yesterday it had been pumpkin. Few birds seemed interested in the scraps, attracted as they were by the army marching by; they were off to kill someone, Hot Pie had no doubt. Maegor, before he’d left for the stables, had watched the frontrunners alongside him, busy eyebrows raised in concern. Hot Pie had shrugged and patted Maegor’s large hand. They had nothing to fear. The army wasn’t for them.
He watched the birds flying overhead, shitting on those beneath. One splat dropped between two lords’ heads. One lord had a white sunburst on his shield, the other a skinned man. Hot Pie could tell a lord by gold trim, though he was fuzzy on the difference between a lord and a knight. He was not fuzzy on footmen. His father had warred before and he told Hot Pie that in exchange for a hot meal in the evening, a cold meal in the morning and a gold coin at the end of the campaign, he exchanged peasant’s cotton for boiled leathers and a pike. Not that he knew how to wield a pike.
Hot Pie kneaded dough. His father died when Hot Pie was only six from a knight’s sword to the stomach, screaming for a week as shit and piss leaked away. Hot Pie had watched the birds outside instead. Months later, he’d been apprenticed to a baker. Skip a few years, and now he was here. What would have changed, had his father survived?
Not much, perhaps.
Today, Hot Pie dropped a few more rotten blueberries outside the window. While he waited for the birds, he turned, sprinkled some more flour, then sugar. The kitchen had lots of sugar. Sugar was not in demand, not like fresh fruit. Or fresh meat. He glanced at the remaining fresh meat over in the corner; turkey flesh mostly, barely enough for three meat pies, four if he used sawdust. He had no idea how he would fulfill the order.
“Boy,” his master, the proprietor of the Inn of the Crossing, called, as if he had been inside Hot Pie’s head. “How go the meat pies?”
Hot Pie didn’t turn. He knew what the master looked like. “We have no meat, master.”
The master probably frowned. “The lords will want their pies.”
“I ain’t no wizard,” Hot Pie said. “You want a wizard, you talk to them out at Qarth or up North with them trees. Find me more meat and you’ll get pies.” Knead the dough. Knead the dough. Knead the dough. Hot Pie kept his rage, that red coil in his belly, checked. The lords, should they not get their pies would not be kind. Lords never were.
He heard scuffling and then, “Well, you get those berry pies out quick, y’hear? We have paying customers. Leave worrying ‘bout meat to me.” At the master’s departure, Hot Pie turned back to the dough. It felt good, kneading, kneading. The troops outside knew nothing about the joys of dough. They didn’t how it tasted when the crust browned just right, when sugar and butter melted together, fruit leaking its juices. Hot Pie bounced his big belly. Gods, he loved pie.
Outside, a fat crow swooped down and pecked at the blueberries. Hot Pie leaned his head outside to see. “Oi, little bird. You ‘ungry?” It tilted its head and pecked, gobbling a berry down right quick. “You’re a hungry little fella.” He dropped another rotten blueberry. The crow ate that as well. Behind the crow, the army marched.
Now there were wagons piled high with rations and blankets and arrows and all kinds of nonsense that Hot Pie didn’t even know about. His friend Arry had known some stuff and nonsense: formations and supply lines and whatnot, but Hot Pit didn’t care nufin for all that and didn’t remember nufin neither. Arry might have told Hot Pie all about this army and it’s movings on, but Arry wasn’t around and truth be told, Hot Pie didn’t care. There were pies to make.
The blueberry pie was finished and ready for cooking, so Hot Pie put it with half a dozen other blueberry pies. He wiped his plump fingers on his stained leather apron and stoked the fire in the oven. It was a right big fire and Hot Pie slept beside it on cold nights. It wasn’t a bad kind of life, he had to figure, what with the food scraps and the warm kitchen. There was a nice pallet of old saddlebags behind the stove. Maegor slept there sometimes, too, and if in the night Maegor’s hands roamed, well, Hot Pie didn’t much mind. He didn’t much fancy Maegor or any boy, really, but a good slap and tickle? Always welcome.
Any kind of love felt warm.
While the pies cooked, Hot Pie went back to the window he looked out of 12 hours a day, six days a week. The army still marched, but now there was three men on the side of the road looking at a horse. One was a big man, a knight maybe, and the other two were scrawny and young. Might be squires. Hot Pie thought squiring looked hard. Even as he thought that, one of the squires took the horse’s left hind leg in his hand and lifted. The horse whinnied and shuffled and then the horses’ rump was beside the squire’s skinny nose and then the squire was covered in horse shit and he reared back and his fist went out and clobbered the horse on the rump, but the horse didn’t mind, though the knight did and his mailed fist came down on the squire’s head and the squire fell to the dirt, quivering.
Hot Pie had seen such things before. It didn’t bother him. He’d seen worse, too. Sure enough, the squire got up. Lesson learned. He wondered what would happen if that knight were the one to whom he owed meat pies. Would the knight only hit him should they not have pies? Would the knight do worse? He shivered.
“Pies ready boy?” the master called. There the master was, his black skull cap held in his hands. There was a red mark on his face in the shape of five splayed fingers. Small ones, but one had a ring, cause the master was bleeding under his eye. “The customers are hungry.” He wiped the blood away with his sleeve.
“Sorry master,” Hot Pie said. “I didn’t know they were so angry. Might could be one pie is ready if’n you need it.” He made as if to go to the stove.
The master waved him off. “No boy. They aren’t going to treat me any better with unfinished pie, now is they?” The master joined Hot Pie and together they watched the army go by. “Besides, if we don’t get them meat pies, a little slap will feel like a tickle, eh?”
Hot Pie didn’t feel the need to respond. His master was right. Instead, he watched the army in silence. It was camp followers now, bedraggled women and painted fancy boys, cooks and gamblers and all. Besides the knight and the horse and the two squires at the side of the road, all the soldiers were gone. The knight had the horse's’ hoof in his hand and he gesticulated with it. The horse neighed. It didn’t sound good.
The knight saw them and he dropped the hoof and strode toward Hot Pie’s window. The master’s thin eyebrow lifted and Hot Pie shook his head, murmured, “Arry taught me. Don’t be rude, but don’t show no fear neither, master.”
“Eh?” The master’s voice shook.
“If you be insolent, he’ll kill you. But if you look weak, he’ll take whatever he wants. Just be polite, master, but firm.” The master’s face drained of color and Hot Pie put his fat hand on the master’s skinny one. “I’m right here, master.” Then the knight was at the window and Hot Pie had to quiet.
“This horse is no use to me. Its ankle is broken. You got a horse in there?” The knight’s voice was deep, his eyes dark biscuits.
“Aye,” the master said, “we might have a plow horse.”
The knight snorted. “Give me that plow horse and ten gold and you can have my charger.” The knight held his hand forth. “It’s a good deal.”
Hot Pie whispered in his master’s ear that they had no use for a war horse and it was good for nothing but meat. His master said that he could offer an even swap. The knight’s mustache quivered and the bargaining was on. Hot Pie offered advice and the master took it and soon enough, the knight and squires left with the plow horse and one gold and Hot Pie had a new saddlebag for his bed.
After the knight left, the master prepared half the pies that had cooled enough to be served. “Good job, Hot Pie.” He took the pies to the busy front room and there were cheers. “Our great cook has struck again,” he said amid the clamor and there were cheers. The master reappeared a moment later and gathered the rest and he patted Hot Pie on the head. “Good job, Hot Pie. Now take that horse to the stable for butchering,” and so Hot Pie did, until he stood in the stable with Maegor and the charger.
“Hold the reins tight, Hot Pie,” Maegor said and Hot Pie did. Maegor was tall and burly, handsome but for his harelip
“What’s its name?” Maegor asked, a kitchen knife in his hand glinting as the setting sun hit it.
“Of course. Horse got to have a name.”
“Shit, I don’t know. Call him Meat Pie if you want to call him something.”
Maegor frowned and scratched his bristly cheek. “If we’n goin kill this, we got to name it first. That’s how the Gods want.”
Hot Pie mumbled that it wasn’t no god he knew but fine, call him Ethel. “That’s me lil sister’s name.”
Maegor said Ethel was a good name and then he slit the charger’s neck and blood spurted into a pail and the horse tried to run away and Hot Pie stroked its nose until the light left Ethel’s eyes. “I’ll butcher Ethel and give you the meat for pies?” He grinned. “Maybe extra for us to eat?”Hot Pie allowed as it might be so.
Back in the kitchen, Hot Pie looked outside. Soon enough the meat would arrive, and he would make more pies and when finished, he would hand them off to the master to deliver up North. The blueberry pies would be long eaten by the guests of the inn and Hot Pie would see that none had hit the master or the serving wenches and everyone would drink into the night.
The army was gone and there was no dead to be buried and no thieves had tried nothing, and there were two crows on the windowsill so he fed them. One of the crows pecked his finger and a drop of blood welled out.
Hot Pie waited for the blood to congeal and when it did, he cut the last pie up, the one he saved for him and Maegor. He tasted it and it was good. Later Hot Pie got into his little bed next to the stove and waited for Maegor who snuggled beside him and touched him until Hot Pie groaned. All was well with the world.
Michael B Tager is a Baltimore-based writer and editor. More of his work can be found at michaelbtager.com. Likes include garden gnomes, cats, tacos and Prince.