Granvil Sourcrust pounded on his latest baby with flour-dusted knuckles. Grabbed it up and flung it around, then slapped it down on the bench and resumed the beating.
Had the dough been an enemy prisoner in a castle dungeon it would’ve betrayed its kingdom by now, declared its gods false and sold its family to spare itself further punishment. Assuming it had breath left to speak.
There was such a thing, thought Mythany, as kneading something too much. But voicing her opinion on Granvil’s methods was one sure way to get a rise out of him. He was the boss. He was the Pastryarch.
She was only his daughter.
People always made her day when they told her how she was the spitting image of her mother. But mum had left her in father’s care and it worried her that might have abandoned her to one inevitable outcome. Every day he instilled in her some new facet of the trade. Was he also training her to be more like him? Shaping her like that ball of dough?
His blood was up, damsoning his cheeks. And even the wart bulging beside his right ear purpled like a ripe plum. Almost a perfect match for the emblem on his otherwise pristine chef’s surcoat: the family crest of a thumb, sticking up from a pie dish and tipped with a juicy plum. A symbol intended as a guarantor of the customer’s approval on finding the fresh fruits with which his pies and pastries usually overflowed. But to Mythany, often as not, it looked like the result of a clumsy carpenter’s accident with a hammer. She imagined the plum throbbing, much as her father’s veins did now. Mythany’s breast-pocket sported an identical badge, but her hat, currently crumpled on her head like a cloth meringue, was plain white. Crowns were the birthright of kings, her father always said, but a hat with the family sigil had to be earned.
He grinned now, loving his craft with abandon. But his bad teeth, like a crude stone hedgerow cobbled together in a rush, painted a fierce expression. As though he enjoyed the violence. As though, maybe, he imagined he was hammering out some picture of the ‘Old Woman’ he’d glimpsed in the dough. As though his business was revenge, not bakery.
Mythany observed him in action. Studying as closely as she dared. Flinching at the heftiest thumps, when blizzards of flour would blast her eyes and powder her shoulders. If not for the hat, it wouldn’t take long for this business to turn her hair white. It amused her, the idea of the hat as protection against such a symptom of premature ageing. Because when she donned it in the morning and adjusted its set for the day’s work ahead, the mirror added a handful of years to her reflection and showed her a grown woman.
The hat, in that sense, was an enchanted item that worked its magic in two directions at once.
Done with his victim, Granvil flopped the limp remains onto the bench and grabbed the rolling pin. Which he immediately thrust at Mythany. “Here,” he puffed and wiped a sleeve across his sweaty chin. His pudgy nose was swollen on the inside – inflated sinuses, he claimed – and he was always short of air, even without the exertion. “Roll it out. Eighth of an inch.” He gestured at the assortment of pastry cutters, jumbled in the tray at the end of the bench. “Cut it into six-inch circles. Twelve perfect circles, we’ll want.”
Laboured words, struggling breaths. The combination was all it took to render such a big man fragile. Fear melted into feeling sorry for him and she accepted the roller with a dutiful nod and a kindly smile.
“That’s my girl,” he said. And lumbered off like a hippo with a bad hip, heading for the larder. “Need to fetch the fruit. Eggs and milk for the custard. What else, what else…”
Mythany listened to his mutterings fading beyond the larder door as she dusted her hands and coated the roller with flour. She rested the rolling pin atop the dough, flattened her palms over the handles and pushed. Firm, but gentle. Conscious of the bruising it had received, she was convinced she could coax more co-operation out of it with tender pressures. If she managed to create those circles to father’s precise specifications, he might – he just might – allow her to apply the fillings. And in – what? – a month or six, perhaps, she might advance to the folding and crimping.
Granvil Sourcrust’s Fruit-and-Custard Crescent-Moon Pasties were his premium speciality. A host of house specialities lined the shelves in the shop like a colourful sweet-and-savoury pageant, fondant flags and batter buntings. Wafting delicious drafts through the doorway and singing like sirens of smell, drawing unsuspecting passers-by onto the rock-cakes and other heavenly fates. But the Crescent-Moon Pasties were the princes among his signature treats, assured of his personal touch at every stage.
Although only the other day Mythany swore she’d heard him saying to Mrs Pillory, dropping in to pick up an order for her annual Women’s Association banquet, ‘almost every stage’. Acknowledging her so far minor contributions, such as beating the eggs, sprinkling the icing sugar and, most of all, washing the bowls and pastry cutters and so on. And today, the rolling out the pastry.
She wondered if her promotion might come sooner than she’d thought. And she wondered why. She shot a puzzled glance over her shoulder towards the larder.
Her father had fallen awfully quiet.
Mythany knew he could be very picky over the fruits, but he wasn’t normally gone this long. In any case, his mutterings by now ought to have evolved into the humming of random tunes. Usually a catchy ditty caught from one of the bards and buskers who would station themselves outside the shop in hopes of receiving a rejected pastry as a free lunch. But all she could hear were the murmured conversations of staff and customers out in the shop.
The larder doorway merely gaped emptily, a rectangular mouth frozen in surprise.
Then came a heart-stopping crash.
Unholy clatter like the roof caving in, but Mythany knew it was collapsing shelves and something hitting the floor. Something heavy.
Something that set her running.
Between the abandoned dough and the larder doorway, she pictured the disaster scene a hundred times. But the sight, when she burst in on it, dropped her to her knees.
Inheritance struck like a bolt through the heart.
[To Be Continued…]