This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
The irresistible aromas of cooking drifted lazily through the air, teasing and tempting the nostrils of all living creatures within the Palace of Avalon. The stone gargoyles that lined the wall remained indifferent to the scents, though that would change in an hour or two when stone gave way to flesh and sinew. For two of the three humans that called Avalon home, though, the smells were enough to make bellies growl and mouths water.
"I don’t know how he does it," Tom sighed as he took a deep breath. "Tis’ good that the Magus was wise to the ways of cooking, eh, Katherine?"
"Aye," the princess nodded. "Left to my abilities, we’d have starved long before the eggs ever hatched." She smiled gently at her lover and took his hand, letting him guide her out of their room toward the dining hall, where dinner awaited.
The Magus was bustling back and forth within the huge confines of the hall. He carefully sliced off several portions of the roasted deer that was dangling over the fire and set them on a plate, then hurried over to a pot of boiling vegetables and gingerly snatched a sample, biting into it and determining its status for supper. Then he reached over to where two bottles sat in a vat of cool water and made sure the contents were sufficiently chilled.
It had quickly become apparent from their first days on Avalon that he would have to handle the cooking chores. Katherine’s heritage gave her no background in the culinary arts, and Tom was simply too young to have much of a grasp, though his hunting skills had kept them well supplied with meat. The Magus, however, had learned to cook early in his youth—apprentices had many duties, and one learned things quickly if he or she wanted to avoid the wrath of a starved Archmage—and with his knowledge of herbs and gardening quickly assumed the duty of keeping them all fed. When the gargoyles finally hatched, his duties expanded to them as well. It had pretty much killed what little free time he’d had.
Tom’s expeditions into the world they’d left behind had borne other fruit as well—a cow or two provided them with milk, cream and meat, seeds had allowed them to build a vegetable garden of good size. The caves cut into the mountain gave them cool storage places for perishable goods, such as the wine and beer Tom had brought back. So the tiny colony prospered, each with their own task—Katherine the gargoyles, Tom the gatherer, and the Magus the provider. And every day, the Magus’ resentment of Tom grew a little more, especially when they retired for the night and the pale, white-haired magician watched the still-lovely Katherine walk into the bedroom she shared with Avalon’s guardian. Every day the resentment grew, and with it the pain of what might have been had things been different...
"Ho, Magus!" Tom’s voice boomed in the dining hall. "What delights have you prepared for us tonight?" The older man forced his teeth to unclench and looked up to see his comrades coming in. As usual, Tom was wearing his armor. One might wonder if he ever took the damned stuff off.
"Hello, Tom...Katherine." The Magus finished his work and motioned for them to be seated. "I have something special tonight." He set Tom’s plate down. "Roast venison, potatoes, and some of that beer you brought back for you, my friend. And I’ve also got some bread, butter and cream for you as well."
Katherine’s plate was next; her meat was skinless and cooked more moderately than Tom’s massive portion. There was also a healty array of carrots and other vegetables beside the meat. "A dinner worthy of a lady. And a bit of wine for you."
"Thank ye, Magus," she said, noddly gently. "It looks heavenly."
"And what about you?" Tom asked with a grin as he split the potato open and poured huge gobs of butter and cream atop it. "Surely you can’t let the children have the rest of this fine prize they supplied, can you?"
The Magus smiled tiredly as he sat down with his vegetable stew. "I’m sorry, Tom. I’ve never been quite able to stomach much meat, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten worse. I can hardly take even a taste of it, any more. But it’s all right. The children will eat well tonight."
"Indeed they will." Tom took a swig of his beer and grinned, his face flushed. "Here’s to you, Magus, for taking such good care of us."
"My thanks, Tom, for your kind words." Oh yes, he thought bitterly to himself, I’m taking very good care of you, my friend. Growing up, he’d watched his father and the other men pig out night after night, eating the huge portions of greasy meat and swilling down the beer. Year after year they indulged without a second thought, until the day came when all that fine food caused their hearts to pound just a little too hard. . . and surrender to the strain.
Meanwhile their women ate their small portions of meat and vegetables and lived nearly twice as long. It paid to be observent, the Archmage had pointed out to him, and now more than ever the Magus was grateful that he’d learned that lesson from the Master. It might take awhile longer, but he could afford to be patient. The reward, who sat to his right and complimented him profusely on the evening meal, was well worth the wait.
Well worth it, indeed...