A Giant's Cook - chapter 1

A Giant's Cook - chapter 1

Published by Frenchfeeder · 2010-08-24T19:10:42+0000

A GIANT’S COOK

Written & illustrated by Frenchfeeder

I. Prologue – “Mittel Earth and the tales of the four cities”

“Important resolution : — That it is wrong
to alter the good old course of things...”

Edgar A. Poe, The Devil in the Belfry


Once – a long time ago, before the first memories of men were set in stone – Mittel Earth was covered entirely with forests, dense and dark, always damp in Summer, always cold in Winter – a terrible place for men to settle. What courage did our ancestors show in the face of such adversity, one generation after the next, to hew those trees and start building towns in the new valleys by the Great Lake, then plant, harvest, breed, bake and brew to develop the civilisation we know today...

Eventually arose the four great powers covering all the lands in Mittel Earth, each one sending forth a representative to sit on the “Council of the Four”, the rulers of this lush, young world. The four members of this most honourable Council are the duke of Kastel, baron of Pancia, the first secretary of the merchant’s guild of Stockytown, the holy father of Sacka-Graez monastery and the lord-mayor of Burstijn-at-the-Seams.

The baron of Pancia, pretended to descend from the bastard son of a king from the previous dynasty. He would always insist to be introduced under the title of duke of Kastel – which the other members sometimes agreed to do, on occasions when they needed something from him. Very stubborn, but also vain, the baron’s voice at the council could easily turn to serve the interest of the subtlest of his flatterers at the expense of others, less inspired and fortunate.

The baron had a remarkably unremarkable appearance. Tall, lanky, long and thin, always dressed in stern black and blue, he showed predispositions to more melancholy, severity and resentment than anyone else in Mittel Earth. No one could recall having seen him smile, even as a child. Now in his mid-forties, the baron looked easily twenty years older than his age, a consequence of his mean looks and attitude. For all this, though, the baron remained quite vain...

The Castle of Kastel-Pancia, his family estate, was an enormous stronghold, proudly rising against the mountains in some parts and falling in ruins in others – all the more impressive in the landscape, for people going through the hills only to come upon it by surprise, glowering down from the Northern-Eastern forests with sinister dignity. Despite the extent of the baron’s vanity regarding titles, glory and privileges, it was perhaps only a sin second to his greed and frugality. Never magnificent, the baron’s clothes, outside court and carriage looked merely proper, fitting his noble condition but showing their age nonetheless, through various layers of tarnish. So the rich, rash, allmighty landlord’s image displayed an unusual degree of surface decay.

There were rumors about the extraordinary taxes he collected from all peasants, bakers and craftsmen living on his lands – that his castle wasn’t a place to live in so much as a thousand safes full of gold put together and closed with the same key – that his obsession with gold had driven him mad to the point of wandering at night in his castle corridors, looking for coins he might have lost and accusing the guards of stealing him – that he would bury locked strongboxes deep in his dungeons, treasures brought up from more taxes... then he would spend night after night going back to them, unearthing the coffers to check their precious contents to bury them deeper again.

With only commercial exchanges and no communication between Kastel-Pancia and its neighbour country of Stockytown, little was known for sure about the reality of everyday life in the baron’s lands, even less regarding his castle. Most of it belonged to hearsay, and the baron himself had become some sort of grim, legendary figure...

The baron’s cruelty was a common topic in stories with descriptions of tortures he would inflict his servants. They were largely unreliable, but one’s interest was aroused when it came to the baron’s thirst for gold. It was a well-known fact by now that he provided for a staff of alchemists, who would make it possible for him to turn the stones in his castle into gold, covered with moss as they were...

Some said that the baron’s alchemists were working on more powerful magic than trying to change base metals and minerals into gold. They would prepare an elixir of immortality to him. Whether this was true or not, people in Stockytown would tell tales of great horrors involved in such preparation. After three or four beers, they would reveal how the baron sometimes abducted young girls from the closest villages to have them hanged by their feet in his dungeon, then he would shower and bathe in their blood after his private guards had decapitated their bodies... And after three or four beers, their listeners believed it to be true. What was there to be denied ? No one had ever seen the baron sleep. No one had ever been admitted to diner or supper with him. You could expect no less from a man whose coat of arms was a mighty dragon devouring a man... The baron may have been murderer. He may have been an insomniac. He may have been eating little children as well...

All in all, and legends aside, the baron was really respected out of fear more than anything else, but he didn’t take notice of it : Even at night, horse riders in blue cloaks would get to some sleepy hamlet and wake up everyone to collect more money, flour, grain, eggs, livestock and other goods to bring back and present to their master in the morning.

Needless to say, people were unhappy, living under his rule, but he also had a great number of soldiers and knights to control the roads and gates. So no man, woman or child ever got to leave...

The extent of the regulation imposed by the baron over the passages in and out of Pancia annoyed the merchant’s guild of Stockytown, whose main income was in buying, exchanging and selling goods with their surrounding lands. Despite Pancian losses, their business, though occasionally slowed down, was never fully compromised and Stockytown remained a prosperous, young city. Its population, mostly well-established farmers, bakers, butchers and beer brewers, had become extremely rich in less than a century, through strict economic regulations on all marketable goods, much to their own advantage. Now, the twelve members of the merchant’s guild were the envy of their neighbours and friends, and the most respected men in all the land. They carried their responsibilities well, as living images of prosperity and abundance. As a rule, they would sport fully grown, well-fed bellies, and had to weigh no less than 260lbs to become members, no matter how good they were in their trade. As such, their costumes were all the more expensive because of the amount of fabric needed to cover such massive male bodies.

There were not many important families in Stockytown, but those that counted were all large and well-connected, since the rich would always be more or less cousins or cousins’ cousins... The twelve top places in the merchant’s guild would usually pass from father to son, or uncle to nephew in the worst cases, and the children were consequently prepared for their future duties. The economic expansion of Stockytown showed pretty much on everyone in town : Round and rosy cheeked, plumped arms and legs, wide butts and expanding bellies... In some cases, the guards would even be too heavy to get on their horses !

To these families, well-established and ambitious, the education of their children was most important. The boys were treated with particular interest, of course, as the future rulers of their town and lands. Their elders would teach them the ways of their ancestors, the rules and commands that governed the social hierarchy of the villages, and most importantly, they instilled in their children a reverence and respect for these rules, unshakeable save because of the prospect of making more money... To teach his son accordingly, a landowner would set an example by sending him to stay at one of his farms for a week, then another, and after a few months of surveying the property he was to inherit, the boy would know from experience the extent of his wealth. As tradition required it, the young boy would be fed by his father’s peasants no less than two gallons of their best milk every day, and lots of meat, from cows and poultry to sausages. When the boy got back home, larger and rounder, his increazed size would make his father proud as he had grown larger and rounder. Then, as teenagers, rich sons would either learn their father’s trades in Stockytown or else be sent as heirs to study at the monastery of Sacka-Graez, on the other side of the Great Lake, a privilege reserved for the wealthiest of the wealthy. They would get the best education there. Some of them would even remember how to read and write – but intellectual ambition in no way guaranteed success in the guild once their studies were at an end. Ambition was mostly a matter of size in Stockytown, where a leader would always be preferred on account of his bulging belly and thick neck with double chins.

For that purpose, Stockytown’s University provided a well-crafted educationnal program that was truly beyond reproach, with plenty of qualifying courses for the students. For centuries, the University had been an all-male school of about five hundred boys, sleeping in dorms and following classes over three years. First year classes were basics, attended by all students, then they would specialize in one curriculum or an other, and therefore display a certain level of competency in their field. There a student could acquire experience both in studying theory and in training in a determined environment.

Every day after an hour-long breakfast, everyone’s first class would be devoted to “breakfast analysis” during which the boys usually ate a second breakfast. Then it would be “napping”, followed by “introduction to sweets” and “snacking before lunch”. In the afternoon, the students went through “advanced lunch” and “beer tasting” class, then group sessions of “napping” and “introduction to funnel feeding”. During the evening, homework would be given to small groups of about five students, such as “pastry stuffing” and “late-night drinking”.

In their second year, new courses would be included to the program, such as “beer bonging” and “doughnut dunking” in the morning, “foreign meat sauces” and “partner napping” in the afternoon – where students would go to bed with a designated partner for two hours, most of the time with their roommates, and give belly rubs to each other. Students experienced their first sensual pleasures in such classes, and their first sexual arousal as well, in most cases...

In their third year, along with new classes and specialized orientations, such as “binge eating”, “mutual gorging” and “alternative feedings”, the students had to prepare themselves for their main exams. “Barbecue party” was one of the first tests they would have to pass. Then the most important of all was the famous Pie-eating contest – a long-established tradition in Stockytown... This final test would validate the whole three-year education they had received, and needed to be organized months in advance... For each student entering the contest, three villages were designated in Stockytown’s lands, where the peasants were given notice that they would have to starve for a month in order to fill the contestant’s belly with enough good food. The test itself lasted three days, from sunrise to sunset, with only two hours of sleep in a tent every six hours at the table. The three remaining boys ready to eat more would be the winners, and their names would be engraved in gold letters on the marble wall in the University wall.

The pies in Stockytown were famous for the great variety of fruits available on their land, as well as the impressive number of different jams the farmers made. All kinds of sweet pies were baked for the contest, which was the main event of the year. Parents and friends would sometimes travel a long distance by horse to encourage their boys. There was no possible discussion about the jury’s decision, so every little detail had to be adjusted beforehand. The food was mostly sausages, stuffed pigs – a famous specialty in Stockytown, with fries and onion rings – then pies. If the competition was fierce and there was absolutely no food left in the end, the crowd would cheer for the winning boys’ success, and they were immediately offered some important position in the council or in the guild.

After such achievements, the winner or winners usually weighed a lot more than the mandatory 240lbs to become esquire... The peasants who had gone through famine for a month to support their designated contestant would applaud him in the final stage of the game. In some cases, the winning students wouldn’t only be their parents’ pride and joy : They would honor the city and their ancestors’ traditions, showing such character. The best contestant known in Stockytown’s history had been weighed in around 450lbs on graduation day. His bronze statue was now standing in front of the merchant guild’s hall...

The commercial balance was so much in their favor that the merchants only needed to mind their existing assets, their business in such a state of automatic growth that the guild members virtually became wealthier in their sleep... Nonetheless, the guild’s members could sometimes justify a mediocre monthly income for the city, blaming the baron’s intrusions by the borders as an excuse. As a result, their complaints against him were never more than diplomatic, and they were on good terms with the master of Kastel-Pancia – never forgetting that their fattened defense squadron was no match for his knights and soldiers in blue cloaks...

If the revenues of Stockytown made the baron secretly jealous, as much as their comfortable lifestyle was the envy of anyone living in the cold, Northern-Eastern domains, it was nothing compared to the luxury and abundance of the greatest town in the Southern regions, Burstijn-at-the-Seams.



The river Seams flows South from the Great Lake, where thousands of mountain streams come together – some say even those starting from the tallest peak in all Mittel Earth, Mount Moob. The great valley formed on both sides of the river provides great pastures for the farmers’ herds, as well as generous land to grow corn, wheat and so on. The farmers and breeders around Burstijn were probably just as rich as their friends from Stockytown, but they were surpassed by the nobility in town, who took more than half of what they produce in the form of feudal taxes, yet leaving them with enough to live in security and comfort.

The noble families of Burstijn were represented by the lord-mayor, who would be elected for life – but since generally only a very old gentleman gets the job, elections occured fairly regularly... One of the consequences, which Burgstijn managed to take advantage of, was to call forth the council again, and discuss all relevant political subjects. The lord-mayor generally attended to one of those meetings only. Nevertheless, the interests of Burgstijn-at-the-Seams were well defended. Principally, the noble families of Burstijn held all the bankable interests for more than half the population of Mittel Earth. Even the monastery of Sacka-Graez and the baron of Kastel-Pancia had official accounts and large interests, official and secret, in their impressive bank...

With so much money flowing through their hands, the richest men in town also manufactured all kinds of luxury products : silks, furs, jewels, spices... As their unique representative in front of other assemblies, the lord-mayor always presented himself with tremendous – some might even say excessive – pomp. He also had to be well over 300lbs to get elected, so most of the richest men in Burstijn would eat and eat to try and weigh only a little bit less, in anticipation of the next elections...

Stockytown took well-deserved pride in its University, but the cultural heritage of earlier kingdoms was most brilliant in Burgstijn-at-the-Seams. The old, empty royal court had kept a ballet corp, maintained with great expense by the city with five dozen dancers. The only issue with such a respectable institution was that people considered it old-fashioned to see men and women dancing together in costumes. So a younger, newly-elected Lord-Mayor had once suggested that the status of the theatre should be renewed. The council members were enthusiastic about the idea, and they took a decision with immediate effect to get the ballet changed into opened beauty pageants. This corresponded a lot better to the new tastes in town, and the representations in court became quite popular again.

The beauty pageants would be held in costumes, with a “before” parade and a second, more important, “after” one with a month between the two. During that month, all the participants would have to work on outgrowing their clothes and showing how elegantly they would rip them out in front of the jury and admiring crowd. This event would be announced in the Spring to take place in the Fall, so everything would be organized perfectly, and in the grand fashion and good taste that was so dear to the people in Burgstijn-at-the-Seams...

For evident reasons of fair play, the contestants had to be isolated from their friends and other participants, and they would be fed the same food for a month. The Lord-Mayor had thought about making that food a real delicacy, that would claim Burgstijn’s superiority over its neighbours. A commission of the best cooks and refined gourmets eventually agreed on the recipe of what was to become the self-proclaimed “best food in all Mittel Earth” for their contest : Burgstijn pie.

The Burgstijn pie was a minced-meat pie with creamy potatoes, fried onions and mushrooms, between bottom and top layers of crisp, fried bacon and a cheese omelet to cover it all. The meat would be slightly peppered and salted, with tasty spices – including ground beef and pork, although other meats could be prepared ground in a similar fashion : lamb, chicken, even turkey... Also bread dumplings and ham-filled dumplings were essential to the recipe, sucking up the grease from the bacon above and below, and the cream from the potato mix... Then the omelet would finally get buttered up, with more crumbs of the tasty crust, to be presented to the contestants.

On some, really auspicious occasions, a medium-sized Burgstijn pie would be prepared for a guest of honor – with the single exception of the baron of Pancia. The Lord-Mayor would eat a full pie on the day of his election, as the ceremony would welcome such signs of prosperity and superiority on others.

The last, most honorable member in the council of the four was the holy father representing the monastery of Sacka-Graez, in the Western forests by the Great Lake. The monastery, once a modest abbey, had slowly turned into a fortress more impressive than the castle of Kastel-Pancia – and its perfect equal in the West. The holy father, who had been running the place for over thirty years now, was probably just slightly less mysterious, but also more enormously obese than the baron was ridiculously slender. He could hardly walk without the help of two young choir boys, following him around and supporting his bulk at every step.

In spite of the sheer size of the buildings in Sacka-Graez monastery, there were never more than three hundred people living together, from boys doing their religious studies to visiting priests on a retreat to the more permanent members of the community. For people who had never stepped a foot inside, the comfort and grandeur of the place was legendary – but there were enough people going in and coming back to confirm that everything they heard was true. Apparently, it was an earthly preamble to Heaven.

The permanent staff in Sacka-Graez numbered fewer than two hundred men, whose task was mostly to copy old, sacred books in fine handwriting for their rich customers. It was a well-known fact that the monks didn’t know how to read, but as a result they did an even better job at copying their models closely. Most of their noble clients didn’t know how to read either, anyway...

To take care of their rose gardens, the monks had servants chosen among the peasants who also cultivated their lands. The monastery would generally take ninety percents of the harvests and leave a “generous” ten percents to the peasants, along with the holy father’s blessings. The same applied to the grape harvest, the pig breeding and the fine bakery. These were jobs monks weren’t meant to do : Their duty was to pray the Lord for the wellfare of all men.

A good two-hour prayer was mandatory in Sacka-Graez, after each meal – also mandatory. For two hours the young monks would eat all sorts of delicious foods, then go to their bedrooms and pray. The more experienced monks could feast for three hours. Some particularly devoted young men would gorge themselves as fast as they could to welcome divine inspiration in their prayer – for which sleep was equally recommended.



Life in the monastery was said to be quite strict. When a young boy entered the community, following his family’s decision to serve for some time, all his goods and clothes were taken away from him as a lesson of humility and poverty. Then he would be given a white robe adjusted to his size, carefully measured by the monks, and a rope belt. The belt was weaved with a red rope and a white rope so that every section was an inch long around the boy’s waist. After being introduced to the holy father, the boy would be given some mission he would have to accomplish with rigorous piety and discipline. At his age, the holy father would invariably choose the same mission for a new boy, but it had proved to be effective : contemplation and prayer. This meant that the boy would be served meal after meal every day, from early morning on, and get to drink the monk’s special, home-brewed beer until he begged the cooks to stop refilling his plate. If he didn’t beg for it, the orders were to keep going. Then the boy would be sent to a small chamber to atone for his sins and pray to become a better person. After a week, if the boy had broken his robe’s rope belt by outgrowing it, the holy father considered that he had passed the test. If not, he would have to go for another week and break a rope belt four notches larger than the first. In most cases, the experience was a success. The boy would be praised and allowed to stay for a whole month, if he wished for it – at his family’s expense, naturally – or until he thought he was ready to go back to his hometown...

The methods in Saka-Graez were renowned the world over, so the best families from Burgstijn-at-the-Seams and Stockytown would send their sons at different moments in their lives, for shorter or longer periods of time. A boy following his first religious teachings, over a week, would usually come back carrying 15lbs in his belly. Teenage boys going for a monthly retreat would never come back with a gain smaller than 40lbs. Then a young man staying for one or two months in spiritual contemplation could gain up to 100lbs before coming back home, to be the pride of his parents and a model among his friends...

And so, their spiritual community was flourishing, earning everyone’s respect with such commendable behaviour. The monks provided great services to young men from Stockytown, who coveted certain positions in the merchant’s guild, or older men from Burgstijn-at-the-Seams who were intriguing to become the next lord-mayor. In both cases, those men wouldn’t forget how the monks had helped them spiritually, all while generously looking past their ambitious motivations...

In some cases, a new member could ask to be admitted among the community and become a monk. The ceremony of acceptance was a little less known, but it was said that all the other members would proceed to feed the young man a whole meal to prove his faith. After the whole lot of monks would have come and gone with a meal, which had to take more than a month to be finished, it should have been clear that the new monk could never fit into his old, profane clothes. Then a great feast would be served in the refectory to celebrate his achievement and his admission into the holy orders.

As religious authority in all Mittel Earth, the monastery of Sacka-Graez was also the most important academy for solo and group singers. Their library contained a great number of manuscripts for sacred songs and prayers in music from ancient times, when a handful of inspired composers were established in their chapel. Of course, music of such beauty was eternal and universally revered, but the monks had limited knowledge in reading scores. Most of them didn’t feel like singing at the top of their lungs, anyway – so the books were preserved with great care, in cabinets no one ever opened. The polyphonic singing had evolved into something that felt more natural to the community...

The most important event during the year was the pilgrimage to Sacka-Graez. When all the religious processions were gathered in the great church, the monks would be ready in their respective choirs. Four to six groups of singers stood in front of large, individual beer vats, and they had been sipping tall glasses of beer in advance. When the pilgrims stood in a perfect, religious silence, the first group of singers would belch. Then, monks from the second group would belch louder in answer, then the third group would follow and all the monks would guzzle beer and belch in canon until a divine, uninterrupted flow of alternating burps would sound and fill the room : long and short, high and low, near or in the distance, all descending from the majestic marble vaults – praising the Lord’s generosity and the abundance of his goodness in a chant that felt out of this world...

The school of polyphonic burping in Sacka-Graez was an academy in itself, and its singers were allowed supplies of their best brewed beer five times larger than the other, regular monks. They would practice every day – growing enormously large beer bellies, developing better lung capacity and working on diaphragm control. Their master performance was without a doubt the inspired, vertiginous rendition of the madrigal “Nunc est bibendum” for ten groups of eight singers and almost two hundred gallons of beer : more than twelve minutes devoted to burping in the name of God...

On that basis, the whole of Mittel Earth lived in peace, all political affairs being regulated by the council of the four – and perfect harmony, since only peasants, workers and occasionnal waywards died of hunger. All was well...

But there was still a large part of Mittel Earth unexplored, almost uncharted. The remaining forests in the North and West, too far in the mountains but extending all the way down to the Great Lake, were considered impossible to navigate, even dangerous to approach. Not even the baron of Kastel-Pancia had ever dared to claim the forest as part of his domains.

Only desperate people would be foolish enough to try and flee into the woods to escape the baron’s mounted riders... Once, a knight had accepted, after losing a drinking game, to go wander alone for the night in the mountains. He never came back. Only two days later, his horse was seen running back to the castle, all covered in blood. Many stories were told about the forest, its darkness and huge trees reminding everyone of the hard life endured in the wild, and the benefits of civilisation.

Then came the Giant...





(to be continued)