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The Life and Times of Mag the Cook   by annmarwalk

Prologue: Snakes

How did you first come to the City, Mag, all the way from Lebennin? they ask, and I tell them:

"It is all because of snakes, and my horrible, wicked sister."

Yes, wicked, and jealous of me! She always was, for I was our Gran’s darling, not she. She knew I was afraid, even from the time I was a tiny thing, and so once when I was four she put a snake in my cot as I lay napping. When I awoke, there was the foul beast lying on my chest, staring at me, with those great flat eyes, full of evil. I screamed, such as scream as had never been heard before or since, but my Gran came and comforted me in my terror; holding me and rocking me for comfort. “I hate snakes, hate them, hate them,” I sobbed. “I want to live in a land without snakes.” So my Gran told me of the White City, where she had lived for a time as a girl, a city of cold stone without trees, or grass, or flowers, or snakes; certainly without snakes; and I said that I would go live there as soon as I could.

They laughed at me; but when I was ten, I began to ask about ‘prenticeships in the White City; and did again all the time I was eleven; and when I was twelve they were all so tired of my pestering that it was decided that I and my dearest friend Niallis would go to the White City, She was to be apprenticed to the Healers, for her family grew herbs for healing and cooking, and I to be a scullery maid; hopefully as time passed on I would grow enough wits to be promoted at least to kitchen maid. So we were placed under the protection of a merchant’s wife, and headed with her party of tradesmen off to the White City.

Many, many years we lived there, as I progressed from scullery maid to cook’s helper and on up, eventually, to Cook of the Citadel; and my dear Niallis worked her way from drab to laundry assistant. They had lied to us a little; for there were a few small trees, and courtyards and gardens with grass and flowers; but if there were snakes in the White City, I never saw any, and so I was happy.


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