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The Life and Times of Mag the Cook   by annmarwalk


Back in the White City, Mag’s pantries had seldom been troubled by mice.

There were some, of course – where there is food, there will be mice – but the ancient stone walls did not provide quite as many cozy hiding places as the thatched roofs and woodpiles and hedgerows of Emyn Arnen. Work had begun on cutting shale for roof tiles, to replace the thatch, but that would be a long process, and of course the main parts of the house would have priority. So Mag was looking forward, with some dismay, to sharing the kitchen and pantry with any number of creatures for some time yet.

And good mousers, it seemed, were trained, not born: learning these skills at their mother’s side. Few of the new crop of stable and barn cats were ready yet. Some of them showed promise, according to the stable boys, proud of the trainees’ achievements, but it would still be some time before they could be expected to take up their duties. If the stableboys could even bear to part with their favorites.

“How about a good black snake?” Cempa, one of Lady Éowyn’s grooms, suggested.
“They mouse just as well as cats, and are less troublesome. And you won’t have to worry about waking up in the night with it sitting on your chest, staring at you. Well, not unless it really likes you…”

The horrified expression on Mag’s face was quite enough to silence him, while Éowyn tried in vain to stifle her smile. It would not do to offend Mag, normally quite good-natured and level-headed, but absolutely unreasonable in her aversion to snakes.

“Surely we have a mouser or two to lend Mag, don’t we?” Éowyn asked. “She’ll be grateful to have the help as soon as possible. Perhaps she could…” The stable boys looked crestfallen, sorry to give up their favorites, but Mag nodded sagely. She knew just what was needed to seal the deal.

The next morning a dainty calico and her gingery-striped son reported to Mag’s kitchen. They carefully inspected all areas: pantry, buttery, woodpile, and promptly presented their new mistress with four proofs of their prowess (“Tokens of their esteem,” as Faramir put it, causing Éowyn to choke over her tea.). Mag quickly set out a wide bowl of cream, in payment of her end of the bargain. Shortly afterward, spice cakes, warm from the oven, were delivered to the stable boys, a salute to their expertise as judges of Mousery.

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