A SOUFFLÈ OF ICE AND FIRE

Rodrik's culinary adventures in the Seven Kingdoms

A SOUFFLÈ OF ICE AND FIRE

Rodrik's culinary adventures in the Seven Kingdoms

Today Lord Stark asked to see me. I was trembling the whole way to the great hall. What would the Warden of the North want with an assistant cook? Arya and Bran were still at the table, their mouths full, but grinning. It seemed the wood carvings behind them started moving, I felt dizzy.

“A boy from the Iron Islands knows the old recipes of the North!” Lord Stark patted me on the back, I nearly fell.

Then I knew. That was a Stark thank you for the cookies I had made.

The Children gave me the recipe when I was in the forest gathering herbs. The things I do for fresh herbs! But I fell asleep; it’s them long working hours at the kitchen. I might have been awake when I heard voices, or not, I don’t really know. It was two Children, girls I guess, at the river. Their clothes were crazy and they had tattoos.

I wanted them to approach and they did. One of them asked if I have the Sight. I said, “Yes, I can see, probably I have the Sight, of sorts.” They laughed. The other asked if I meant them harm. Now, that was a shock! I said, “No, never! All I want is to collect herbs and cook.”

Then they gave me the recipe and called it Pact Cookies. They said I should never forget, then started dancing, then disappeared.

Still, I made the cookies and they were served after dinner today. And then Lord Stark asked for me and thanked me! I guess it’s high time I sent a word to mother. They must be worried after I run away; well I guess father is more mad than worried. But there’s no need, I have a job in Winterfell! I might be an assistant cook, but it’s my thing, I’m no blacksmith. I can taste the tastes and I can smell the smells… No one in the Iron Islands seems to care about those things!

This is exciting, King Robert Baratheon is coming to Winterfell! It’s suddenly wild at the castle, everyone busy. On top of it all, the Stark kids turned up with these direwolves the other day. Now there’s always wolves in the kitchens, asking for food. They are sweet, for now, and hungry.

I dreamed about the King – a large royal couch, servants, and cans of colorful spices.

Lady Catelyn suggested we should cook Lannister Rolls. There is no one here who knows how to make them, so I volunteered. I’ll need to improvise. Arya said I should serve three rolls, two of equal length for the Queen and Ser Jamie, and one shorter for the Imp. Bad Arya!

I need to go, so I will finish this diary entry later….probably.

First I saw a three-eyed raven pecking at my parsley. Creepy bird! I should have known then and there! I just managed to chase him out of the kitchens and into the yard, when I saw them. The young lord Bran had fallen down while climbing a tower. That was all yesterday. But still no one knows if he will recover. Lady Catelyn is in despair, she doesn’t leave his bedside.

And the whole castle is in tears. Lady Catelyn and Lord Eddard are gentle and just. Nothing like Lord Balon Greyjoy!

I prayed to the Drowned God for the young lord. Today I’m making Grey King Tart .I’ll offer it to the God so he may hear my prayer.

I had a dream. I was walking in a desert, I’ve never been in one, but that’s what they must feel like. There was an old lady cooking. She was dressed in a foreign fashion, had expensive earrings and a necklace on.

“Hello there,” she said, “I am cooking Simple Qarth Soup with Chicken. It is from Qarth, you know.”

I spoke up, “Well, it smells delicious, what’s in it?”

“You have the Sight, you will figure it out soon enough,” she smiled and pulled away from the fire. She moved gracefully.

Suddenly we were in a forest far in the North.

I said, “There were some Children that asked if I have the Sight, but I didn’t get what they mean.”

Her beautiful old eyes turned to me, “If you want to understand you will need to find me.”

I knew she was about to leave, so I was quick to ask, “Should I follow the three-eyed raven?”

Her smile disappeared, “Forget about the three-eyed raven. The poor soul cannot tell a cucumber from a carrot.”

I asked how I will find her, and she only said I will find a way. For some reason she repeated not to follow the three-eyed raven.

My aunt Marojey can interpret dreams. I wish I could tell her about this one.

Lord Stark has left Winterfell and is now the Hand of the King. He took the girls with him. Lady Catelyn got to keep all the boys, minus Jon Snow.

The castle is cheerless. No one is in the mood for fancy food. Lady Catelyn eats just Northern Soda Bread, if at all.

Theon Greyjoy must have heard I’m from the Iron Islands too. He stopped me in the yard the other day and said, “Rodrik, if you are not going to be good with the arrows, get good with the knife, man.” I thanked him.

I had another dream, scary at times. I was in a forest far up North, walking, looking around. Under a tree with a face carved in it, the same woman was sitting and grating something.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

War Strawberries,” she replied without even looking at me.

“What is that?” I wondered.

“The Children of the Forest prepare it before a long march,” said the woman.

“Who are they marching against?”

“They are too few to march against anyone. It is the men, who should march.” She stood up and looked me in the eye, “Rodrick, you possess the Sight. But unlike many others yours is unique. Look North and tell me what you see.”

I did. I felt the acceleration, the wind, the snow. I knew I was traveling very fast in the vast snow waste. And there I saw them. White Walkers with glossy eyes and lifeless hair.

But it’s not their looks that terrified me. These icy beings did not use fire. Without it how can they cook?

“Did you notice the army of the dead?” the woman asked.

“I did,” I said. “But, they are dead and do not eat. It’s hardly an interesting topic for a conversation.”

“Your Sight is connected with food,” she continued. “If others see great battles and the valor of heroes, you will see the feast after the battle or the light breakfast before. It is an extremely rare gift, you must be the only one in the world who currently has it.”

“So what can I do with this gift?” I wondered.

“Everything you want,” she replied. “And the question is, what do you want?”

Bran’s direwolf killed his first man, an assassin! I secretly take part of the credit. I fed that teenage wolf well! But what is all this? Revenge?

Still, it made Lady Catelyn snap out of her trance and she has left Winterfell. Lord Robb is anxious. He increased the number of guards in the castle. Hungry men are a welcome sight, for me anyway.

The first evening I had to serve the guards, I expected coarse and gloomy men. They had their expectations too, I found.

“Iron boy,” one said, “so can you cook or do you just sprinkle with salt?”

And then another, “Do you salt to taste in the Iron Islands, or do you salt to death?”

I took it as a compliment. Days ago I had started curing Buried Salmon, my father’s favorite. They had no more salt jokes, after they have tried it. Ale goes so well with it too. We got drunk together.

As soon as I closed my eyes, I was in a ruined city near a warm sea. No one had lived there for ages. I heard singing and followed the voice. In a deserted square, there was a man singing to himself, and cooking. He was dressed like a noble. A half-bird half-woman was drawn on his plated armor.

“You should be careful cooking that,” he said, “or you might burn it.”

“The eggs are actually fried on top of the tomatoes?” It looked strange.

“That is how you make Harpy Eggs,” said the man. “Fine recipe, I invented it many years ago. People still eat it in these parts of the world.”

I had a number of questions, which I asked.

“OK,” he said. “My name is Grazdan, Grazdan the Great. I founded the city of Ghis and the Ghiscar Empire. Have you heard of them? In its time, it was the greatest empire in the world. Yes, I am long dead and I am here to help you.”

“The woman in my other dream said I can use the Sight to do whatever I want.”

“Oh yes, look at me. I was a ruler, a warrior, a lover, a builder, everything that I wanted to be. The Sight can show you what people desire. And you can exploit their desire.”

“I don’t want to exploit anyone,” I said.

“Oh it is fun,” said Grazdan the Great. “But you’ll see, when it comes to us, people with the Food Sight, we end up making the same choice; you will choose helping others, not playing them.”

“Is this some kind of destiny?” I asked.

“Worse, it is logic, the determined inevitability of the cooking logic. Long enough in the kitchen and one starts to understand food can be pushed only this much. You can add spices, increase the heat or change preparation techniques, but an apple is still fundamentally an apple, and you can’t change that. It’s the same with people, underneath all decorations they stay the same. A ruler must also be a cook, that’s what I always say.”

I said I didn’t get what he was talking about.

“Boy, we all need a purpose to our lives,” Grazdan the Great sighed. “Some people strive for wealth and power. I had plenty of both and you know what – I was constantly afraid I will lose them. I would use the Sight to check on my future. But soon I realized I had become a slave to my wealth.

Others might desire love, someone to share their every moment and emotion. That’s an illusion too. The ladies in my life were their own persons. They had emotions and ambitions different from mine. Most of the time, I felt content or even happy. But making a good companion is not my purpose in life. And there was one other thing left…”

“Cooking?” I asked.

“Well, kind of,” replied Grazdan the Great. “I was going to say appreciation of life via new perspectives. Cooking does it really well – you can put one additional ingredient and the dish is changed dramatically. But it is not only cooking, it can be painting, or building, or educating your children, anything really. Do you know how disapproving some of my generals were when I started educating my daughters?“

“Yes, but enjoying life through new experiences isn’t enough, is it? You are not defined by yourself, you need others to shape your own perception of yourself.” Did I say that? Probably it wasn’t me or I was some other me. I was dreaming that I dream.

Grazdan the Great noticed my confusion. “This is the Sight, you will get used to it. So you know what to do?”

“No,” I said.

“Good,” answered Grazdan the Great.

I woke up. It was getting quite cold.

Bran has woken up! He won’t be able to walk again, but it’s good to have him back among the living. I heard he is having strange dreams. How strange? Stranger than mine?

And he is currently crazy about Dream Mushrooms. But two other assistant cooks are sick and one of the cooks is in White Harbor for his daughter wedding. I asked two of my guards friends to help me, they couldn’t say no. Northerners chopping onions, one should see that. “Boy, this is some tear intensive work!” one said.

I was too tired to go all the way to my room. I needed a quick nap in the kitchen. And then I had another of those dreams.

I was in a freezing forest; everything was covered in snow, deep snow. There were thick clouds in the sky hiding the sun. I saw some Children pounding berries in wooden pots. They didn’t seem to notice me.

Then I heard a familiar soft voice, “The Children of the Forest are making weapons.”

“Using berries?” I asked.

“Yes, there are also berries involved. It will either be a desert or a weapon. The Children call them Long-range Berry Balls?”

“Why am I here?”

“You tell me, you came looking for me,” she replied.

“I didn’t,” I said, “I just fell asleep in the kitchen.”

She gave me a smile, “Sometimes the things we didn’t look for are the things we need to look for.”

“Why is everybody in these dreams speaking in riddles?? Is it so difficult to be direct??” I was almost rude.

“Well it is difficult predominantly because I am long dead. Think of me as recipe book. My role is to give you guidance on how to find your way, not to tell you where it lies. I simply don’t know that.”

“The recipe book tells you exactly what to do,” I confronted her.

“No,” she was firm. “The recipe only helps you develop your imagination and sharpen your cooking senses. The real thing is in front of you. You feel the fire and smell the food… A recipe book can’t tell you that, can it?”

“Last time you told me I can do whatever I want, but Grazdan said I will choose helping others.”

She was surprised, “Grazdan?”

“Grazdan the Great, he also had the Food Sight. He showed me how to make Harpy Eggs.”

“It is very unusual to have two guides. Since the Food Sight is so rare, in all likelihood there is no one alive to teach you. So a memory of past figures…”

“You are a memory? How?” I interrupted her.

“Those with the Food Sight are still connected to the world through the food we have created. Echoes of our experience, wisdom and vices are still present in the material realm and you connect to them through your Sight. However, it is very unusual to connect to more than one.”

“Anything to do with the wights? I know the Children are fighting them.”

“I am a memory, Rodrik. This is your dream. You want to tell yourself something important, I am only here to help you discover what.”

“Then let’s recap,” I said. “I want to tell myself that I want to help people, that there is a great threat…”

“Threats,” she corrected me. She was standing on a rock near a lake of fire. It was scorching hot.

“OK, threats. And that I can help in all that. This is logical enough. But how can I help?”

The woman raised her left eyebrow.

“I don’t know that yet, do I?”

“But you already know how to find me,” said the woman.

“Yes, get drowsy in the kitchen.”

“Or any other place connected with food.”

“One last question, who are you a memory of…?”

Her smile was captivating, “I was Irogenia of Lys.”

Things are pretty dark in Winterfell. News came from the capital, King Robert is dead and the new King Joffrey has arrested Lord Stark. There’s much rumor in the castle. Some say the Lannisters want to usurp the Regency. Others say Lord Stark was trying to oust the Queen Mother and the Master of Coin, but they were quicker than him.

Sansa and Arya are still in King’s Landing too. Poor souls! People are saying it will all end in a number of marriages. Some say Arya will be given to the Tyrells. Others say an alliance with the Lannisters is always worth it. And Robb is still not promised to anyone. Most people would gladly offer him to Yara Greyjoy to create a strong union of the North. People, think again!

Pretty much I can’t go to the market without listening to several marriage arrangements, some really odd. A woman selling apples said Robb should marry the last Targaryen princess, wherever she is!

One thing is sure, Robb has called the banners. One old trader from the Riverlands said that with a war coming he‘ll need to hire more men to guard his merchandize and so hike prices. Higher prices are the last thing one needs at the beginning of Winter! I also heard a noble describe Robb’s military effort as “a stupid, expensive and unnecessary show of strength.”

This is not what my friends the guards are feeling however. They want to march to King’s Landing effective tomorrow and batter all Lannister troops on their way there. After that, I quote, “we will spank the young boy,” (“boy” was not the word he used), “free Lord Stark and make him a proper Regent, so he can make a decent king out of the lad.”

Soldiers will be flocking to the castle in the coming days and they’ll need feeding. I’m glad I’ll be busy, still I think I’ll find time to prepare White Harbor Pork.

Lord Stark was beheaded. Winterfell is in shock. Bran and Ricon had both dreamed about it. Maester Luwin is of great help to them, but the boys are so young!

All merchants in the North are selling off everything they can and are preparing to leave. I am making some money selling Stark pie. It is very popular with travelers.

Everyone is talking about the war. Robb is now Lord in the North. Most hope that he will defeat all enemies within a month at most, but I don’t know who the enemies are. The people from the Riverlands, the Vale, the Westerlands and the Reach are just like us. I don’t believe they are my enemy! I don’t understand why the Great Houses are fighting each other!

I must have fallen asleep near the ovens. I started dreaming. I found myself in a small house overlooking a warm see. On a large terrace Irogenia of Lys was cooking.

“I am making Sauce Dorne,” she said. “Could you please pass me the garlic? Or better still, do you mind chopping it?” Naturally, I didn’t mind. “So, what is troubling you?” she added.

“There’s a war, I am worried. Can I do something about it?”

“Rodrik, wars happen all the time. People kill each other for all sorts of stupid reasons. If you want my personal advice – don’t get involved.”

“Yes, but the King killed Lord Stark…” I started.

“I bet this didn’t happen because the Lord was knitting quietly in his bedchamber.”

“Well, I don’t know why it happened.” I paused. I realized I really didn’t know why the King did it, so I couldn’t claim it was unjust. I changed the topic, “Irogenia, why do you think people go to war?”

“Well, when I was very young one of my first benefactors was a magistrate from Lys. His name was Eerom. I asked him the same question and he answered “out of boredom.”

I was shocked. “You mean that people kill each other because they can’t find better things to do with their free time?”

“Yes,” Irogenia was calm. “There are two types of people who go to war. The first are the Lords and their lot. They expect to plunder - titles, land, gold, slaves. And the second are the people who do the fighting. They’ll be lucky if they live through it, but they do it anyway.”

“Many of them have no choice,” I argued, “if they want to keep their land or stay true to their vows.”

“They may have no choice to go or not, but sure as hell they have the choice to fight or not. Quite a few generals have seen their armies’ routing before a battle. The fact is, when people are given weapons and told to fight, they will. Even the shallowest reasons will do. So, what is the “just” cause of this war?”

“Revenge, I guess. Lord Stark was a just and noble sovereign.”

“And how will revenging him make the situation better, precisely? Because I can tell you how it will make it much worse.”

I was struggling for a suitable answer. “But what if the King wants to do away with Robb? What if he puts some Lannisters to rule Winterfell?”

“Did he try? Killing a powerful Lord is dangerous. Other powerful Lords may start wondering if they are next. Any possible claimant to the throne will see this as an excellent opportunity to press his claim, citing the tyrannical rule of the King. A stronger course of action for your Robb would be to enter negotiations, build alliances and wait for the next wrong move by the King. Staying in his strongholds close to his supply lines will give him a much better chance to win. Is he doing that?”

“No,” I replied glumly.

“I am not saying there are no just wars. But it is not the case with your King in the North.”

“Which war is justified then?” I asked.

Irogenia of Lys looked at me carefully. I knew the answer, “The White Walkers have to be defeated. They want to destroy all, not just change the management.”

“What would you do about that?” Irogenia asked.

“I don’t know. But I need to learn and further my skills. And I am afraid I can’t do it in Winterfell.”

END of Season One