No Kitchen Without a Knife
Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru

by Tenshi

It was cold, the day he arrived. Cold enough that even a sword could feel it, cold that would crack fine lacquer and shatter steel. But he was not made of those things now. He had skin and blood and bone, and the freezing air that bit into his new body was a danger to him as it had never been to a sword. He curled his hands into his sleeves on his way down the steps from his new Lord's chamber, and wondered what it would be like to always feel the weather like this.

"Snow on the way, Aoe-san says." Kiyomitsu tugged his scarf closer around his neck, and his tabi-socked feet minced lightly on the chilly hallway floors. "I'll have Kasen bring extra bedding for everyone after dinner. Anything else I can tell you?"

Shokudaikiri looked around his new room, at the neat tatami under his feet and the teapot steaming on the low table, and could not imagine what else he might require. His rumbling stomach had other ideas. "...What's for dinner?"

"Rice." Kiyomitsu's look was nothing short of pained. "And I hope you like it, because it's all there is."

Rice, indeed, it was. As it had been rice for lunch and for breakfast, and much the same every day before. Depending on who wound up in the kitchen, some effort was sometimes made with a dab of cod roe or a pickled plum, but for the most part, rice was the be-all and end-all of food in the citadel. Which was fine up to a point, Shokudaikiri thought. Rice was good, and a good foundation for any meal. But a single stone does not a fortress make. Halfway through his second bowl he indicated his interest in having a go at kitchen duty himself, and everyone else was more than happy to let him have it.

The state of the kitchen was worse than he thought. No one had even bothered to inventory the pantry, the shouyu had run perilously low, and a large quantity of miso had been purchased and allowed to go begging because no one was entirely sure what to do with it. It was clear, Shokudaikiri thought, rolling up his sleeves, that while his comrades were exceptional warriors and steadfast vassals of their master, they were utterly useless in the kitchen. And so the great sword of Date Masamune got to work.

None of them were exactly certain how they knew the things they knew (or in the case of cooking, didn't know). Some things confounded still him; he'd never seen a refrigerator before. Shokudaikiri was utterly surprised the first time he tasted a bit of dashi off his little finger, and yet he had not hesitated a single step in preparing it. He knew, also, that with a snowstorm bearing down on them that rice alone would not be enough to keep them in fighting shape. He roped Kasen in as his assistant, and set him to manning the rice steamer. Meanwhile, with some hot oil and a bit of knife-work he managed to turn a bin of rubbery sweet potatoes and wrinkly kabocha into golden slices of tempura. The neglected miso became soup and the whole mackerels he found buried in the freezer were salted and grilled with only a bit of grated daikon as an afterthought. Three courses was the best he could do, with dinnertime approaching and the snow already starting to fall. Hardly fit to serve to a peasant, by the standards of his old master. Shokudaikiri hung up his apron and held up his hands in surrender. Maybe it would not be completely awful.

"This is completely awful," Yoshiyuki said, looking despondently into the obviously empty tempura basket. "It's gone already."

"Because you ate it all," Kiyomitsu countered, and made a deft parry with his chopsticks. "And you just keep the hell away from mine."

"I could have done better if we had some shrimp," Shokudaikiri said, as an apology. "Or some fresh scallions, maybe some napa cabbage."

"Good luck with that," Yoshiyuki retorted, trying to catch Kiyomitsu's tempura unguarded. "Hasebe won't let us buy so much as a pickled--"

"Shokudaikiri." Hasebe put down his (empty) miso bowl. "I'll expect a list of everything you need for the kitchen by morning tomorrow. As soon as the snow lets up we'll send an expedition into town for supplies. I don't suppose you'd mind taking kitchen duty again tomorrow?"

The rest of the swords looked at him hopefully, even Kiyomitsu, while expertly jabbing Yoshiyuki's hand with a chopstick.

And though it was colder outside now than it had been when he arrived, Shokudaikiri Mitsutada felt nothing but warmth. "I'd be honored."


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