Trimming the List
Katja changed into her alchemical gear and crafted some smithing potions before switching to the smithing gear and making another bow, followed by a breastplate. Daedric armor was very menacing to behold – and a man fully clad in some, with the helmet closed, would be indistinguishable from a Dremora. There were spells and magical staffs that could conjure these beings, briefly, from the planes of Oblivion. A very effective disguise for intimidating your enemies!
When she tired of this work, Katja made yet another costume change into a comfortable stretchy dress she liked to wear around the Suite, then recalled that it was time to meet with Lane and Ellis to discuss the forthcoming party arrangements. She returned to the common room and beckoned them back into the kitchen area, where they could speak without interruptions. Ellis motioned a lovely young Elf woman, who had recently been hired to help around the Suite, to take over the bar for him while they consulted.
“Here’s the story then,” Katja began, laying out details for them so that food could be ordered, staff arranged, etcetera. “I’ve ordered up a special cooking table from Warmaiden’s. It’s supposed to be ready by the 15th, and I’ll need a couple of strong men to help with moving it. Wyll should be back here by then… Anyway, it’s about 8 feet wide by 3 feet deep and the plan is to set it out on the deck to grill meats for the party. We’ll have to see how the weather’s looking. If there’s a chance it might rain we’ll need to rig a tent or canopy over it. I expect it to become a regular part of the Suite’s kitchen equipment. You’ll build a big hardwood fire in the middle of it and when it’s getting down toward coals spread them out, then lay the cooking grids over the top. You should be able to cook enough meat for 50 people at a time on it.”
The two innkeepers looked suitably impressed. Their Dragonborn employer was really shaking the place up. She went on, “I expect we may have as many as 30 to 40 guests, not counting people who are usually here at the Suite anyway. We’ll need lots and lots of chilled ale, so maybe we should have a couple of large barrels with ice in them. I think that if you put water into a broad baking pan and apply the Frost spell, it should freeze very quickly. Then you can break the ice into bits, and pour it out into the barrel. Put in some bottles, repeat the whole procedure, and so forth. Does that sound like a plan?”
Ellis spoke up. “I have the Frostbite spell,” he said. “but I could use a stronger spell – and more magicka.”
Katja thought that over. “I’ll see if I can buy you a tome for a more powerful frost spell,” she promised. “And I can enchant you some accessories that will increase both your basic magicka store and your regeneration rate. I’d really like to have somebody besides Anders who can chill drinks in a hurry!”
He nodded his thanks. Being able to chill drinks was turning into something of a marketable job skill. He’d been doing it for the Suite since Anders had first shown him the technique, and was already getting better at it. Meanwhile, Katja was marshaling her thoughts. “Let’s see… The party will start at 2 in the afternoon and continue on into the evening, so some people will probably come early and leave early while others will be hanging on late. We’d better have a lot of mead and wine in addition to the ale, plenty of chilled drinking water, and maybe some apple cider. We’ll need tons of potato chips, and maybe some of those fried potato fingers I told you about.”
Lane had a comment at this point. “I was wondering if you could get something fabricated for me,” he asked. “Fishing the potato pieces out with a spoon is very slow going, and it’s not going to work if we’re feeding a crowd. What I need is a couple of wire baskets, probably Dwarven metal or copper, that are shaped to fit down inside a large pot and have a handle sticking out of the top. The mesh should be small enough so potato fingers won’t fall through it.”
“Hmm,” Katja responded. “I can probably make something like that myself, if you let me have one of the pots you want to use.”
The consultation continued for another hour, as the three of them discussed all of the food, drinks, tables, chairs and other considerations needed for handling an event this big. Katja left it with another two pages of notes, and each of the men had his own to-do list as well. She joined Igmund and Raerek at her table for supper as usual, and after eating she went upstairs and put on a robe. She took a fairly brief bath, once again too wrapped up in her concerns to be properly sociable.
After the bath Katja retired to the master bedroom with a glass of wine, to sit updating her journal and sketching some outfits she’d like to own. It was a rare treat to have so much time to herself, but she missed her men. And she was beginning to get horny. How many more nights would she have to sleep alone, anyhow?
She’d started keeping a journal several months back, and its pages were filled with tiny writing as she’d tried to make the most of each page. I’m surprised I can even read it now, she thought, scanning back over some of her earlier adventures. She had not recorded any details of her romantic encounters, of course, but even reading phrases like “spent night with Anders, love again in a.m. Wow” were enough to give her a warmish feeling in her crotch. Oh, hell.
Instead, she flipped to the back of the book and her timetable/to-do list. How satisfying to check the invitations to Lydia and Argis’ party off the list. Unfortunately, the list had now grown by another several inches. Tomorrow she would need to leave for Solitude, where she had to pick up Lydia’s dress and okay Taarie’s final drawing for her own. She wasn’t sure how long the fast-traveling would take, so she wanted to err on the side of caution even if it meant spending another night in the Winking Skeever. The name aside, she’d become rather fond of that establishment.
When she’d recorded every last thing she could think of to do in the next few weeks, Katja yawned and stretched. Time enough to get to bed. Stripping naked, quite safe from nocturnal attacks and pleasantly warm, she lay there in the darkness thinking of the man who usually shared this bed with her. His smooth caramel-colored skin, his melting brown eyes, his rock-hard cock… Oops. She began thinking about their brief and red-hot encounter right before he’d left, and rubbed the area around her clit with her right hand while the other massaged her left breast, tweaking the nipple. She soon gave a soft cry, as wetness flooded her. Oh Anders, hurry back!
Another lonely morning. Well, not lonely, really – but the lack of a strong male body in the bed with her left Katja feeling a bit bereft. She had lots to do and there was no fun to be had here; so she was soon up and dressed in her smithing gear. She breakfasted while wearing it, a light meal of bread and cheese washed down with hot tea. Then it was down to the basement, with one of Ellis’s largest cast iron pots in hand, for some more experimentation.
Katja had a goodly collection of Dwarven items she’d salvaged from ruins during her many quests over the past few months. They didn’t fetch all that much compared with arms or armor, and it had always been her intention to smelt them into bars for making armor. But the Suite’s shelves had kept ahead of her needs, so far. Now she began rummaging through it. She had a dim memory, a visual impression… yes, there it was!
From the look of the piece, it was part of a broken Dwemer mech of some kind. And it was completely wrapped in stiff Dwarven metal wire. She unwound it and found that there was quite a lot of it. It seemed to hold whatever shape you bent it into, though changing it to a new shape was not that easy. Setting the pot on the workbench (triggering another memory of a time down here with Wyll that sent a hot shiver through her), Katja began using a pair of heavy nippers, a pair of pliers, and a wooden hammer to lay strands of the wire down into the pot, forming it into a convex cage. She kept it up off the bottom a bit with a thin piece of ceramic tile, and formed it so that there was a little space between the wire and the pot all the way around.
When she had all of the pieces laid in one direction, she laid a similar number of pieces in crosswise. Then she bent some pieces into circles of descending sizes, the biggest fitting the top of the basket, with a loop of wire off one side of it for the handle, and three others going down to the bottom. This would all have to be joined, somehow. She carried the pot with its wire assemblage over to the forge and let the pot sit in the coals. The thinner wire was soon hot and glowing. Then she stoked up the smelter and put in some of her smaller Dwarven scrap.
At the forge, Katja hammered out a long thin bar of steel as if for a short sword, but circular in cross-section. She flattened one end and then punched it into the shape of a tiny ladle. Then, using two pairs of tongs, she lifted the glowing pot off the forge fire and carried it over to the smelter. Dipping her impromptu implement into the molten metal filling the ceramic bar mold, she began dabbing all of the places where one piece of wire met another with droplets of the molten metal. Gravity had its own ideas about this, and before she had finished soldering all the joints there were dribs and drabs of Dwarven metal all over the inside of the pot and the wire cage had adhered to the tile on the bottom in several places.
Katja used a pair of triple-layer leather gloves to lift the wire cage out of the pot. The tile came up with it. She set it on the workbench, and while waiting for it to cool some more she took a well-sharpened steel dagger to a stick of firewood, carving it into a smooth wooden handle. A hand drill put a hole into it, which she was then able to force down over the double wire handle of the basket. By now it was cool enough to touch, and she went to work with cold chisel and other finishing tools to break it loose from the tile and clean up some of the rougher areas.
Oh, what time was it? She really needed to be leaving soon. The basket she’d crafted was pretty rough looking, but she thought it might do the job Lane was looking for. And Dwarven metal had the advantage of being extremely tough and impervious to oxidation. Examples of it lying in dank ruins for millennia still looked good as new.
Katja took a few minutes more to chip the spilled Dwarven metal out of the pot. The seasoned cast iron had not readily clung to the spills, in any case. Then she carried pot and basket back up the ladder and presented it to Lane with a grin. “What do you think?” she asked. He looked astonished. “Wow. I suppose I’d better wash it in hot soapy water before I try it out. Are you staying for lunch?”
“I suppose I can,” she said. I’m going to go get packed up for traveling, and then I’ll grab a bite before I leave. You’re going to make potato chips?” She knew those were faster to cook than the fingers were. He nodded, and hurried off to get the new basket washed and dried. He took extra time with a soft towel, knowing that any residual moisture could be explosive when it hit the hot fat.
He had another pot identical to the example pot sitting on the fire full of hot tallow, something they kept around the Suite kitchen nearly all the time now. He set the basket in and observed that it tipped slightly. Hmm, that was a design consideration he hadn’t thought of. Since he’d never seen or heard of such a thing as a frying basket before, he hadn’t expected to have his invention tested so soon – and found wanting. Experimentally, he took a slender-handled spoon and balanced it on the far edge of the pot from the basket’s handle, slipping below the top ring and keeping the basket level.
So far, so good. Now, with the lightning knife strokes of long practice, he began chopping clean, dry potatoes into thin slices, dropping them by handfuls into the hot fat and stirring them with a fork to make sure they didn’t stick together. When he judged there were as many in the pot as it could handle, he resumed stirring occasionally until all of the potato slices were cooked through, golden brown and crispy. Then he lifted the basket by the handle, causing the spoon to fall off the far side of the pot. What it really needed, of course, was a smaller protrusion similar to the handle to suspend the far side of the basket from the edge of the pot.
Now Lane was standing there holding the very hot wire basket full of very hot freshly cooked potato chips, over the very hot pot full of boiling fat. Hmm. With the old hand technique, you would just spoon the chips out a few at a time and set them on a wire rack over a platter, where the excess fat would run off of them and could later be poured from the platter back into the pot. But what if you could just use the basket to drain the fat directly back to the pot?
He was very thankful Katja had thought to put a wood insulator on the basket’s handle, but even so standing this close to the hot pot was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. He went ahead and dumped the large basket of chips onto the usual drain rack setup, where it mounded up. This was easily four times the number of chips they would normally try to cook at one time. His mind was already at work designing some kind of hooks that could be clipped onto the pot so the basket could sit above the hot oil draining all by itself.
Katja came down the stairs with her pack to find Lane grinning at her, and approaching with grilled meat sliced thin and laid between two halves of a toasted bread roll, with melted cheese on top. Accompanying that was a mound of the still-hot, lightly salted chips. They were crispier and more evenly cooked than had usually been the case. A chilled ale completed the presentation.
She beamed up at him. “Wow! I take it it worked?”
He smiled back. “There are a few things I didn’t think about when I told you what I wanted. But this will do fine for now, and after you get back we’ll talk about improvements to be made. I think the Mark II will be even better. And thanks!” He bustled off, having a busy lunchtime crowd to deal with. Katja sank her teeth into the delicious combination of warm sliced meat, melting cheese, and crusty bread. At the rate the food around here is improving, she thought, I’ll be as big as a house. I’m going to need more exercise!
Finishing her delicious meal, alone with her thoughts, Katja washed the last crumbs down with the last swallow of ale and blotted her mouth with a napkin. She stopped by the bar to thank Lane again for the excellent food. “I’ll be back in a day or two,” she promised. “What’s the time, please?”
He checked the clock they kept behind the bar. “It’s 1:15 p.m.,” he told her. She strolled out the Suite’s front doors and pulled out her map, touched the symbol that represented Solitude, and wished herself to be there.