“You said furbearers,” Ivanthe pointed out, squinting painfully against the flooding light inside the Chopping Block.
“Aye, I did, and y’delivered,” Farlin said, running his hands over the dead coyote. “This hole in the shoulder’s going to knock a nel off the fetching price, but it’s good work. And you’re on time with it, which is big mark on your side. Here, why don’t’cha find Skep and get him to drain that rooster of yours while I get to chopping this up; a good chicken can turn sour if it ain’t killed proper. Oi, Skep!
chirped a mop of dark hair hiding behind a hanging goat.
“Boy. Chicken. Kill.”
Ivanthe crossed the distance just in time to hear a mumbled “What the shit does that mean?”
“Excuse me,” Ivanthe murmured.
“Huh?” said Skep, a thin, wiry man with greasy hair. “Who’s that?”
“Excuse me,” Ivanthe repeated, managing a bit more volume.
Skep noticed this time, then put the pieces together when he saw the cockerel under his arm. “Give it here,” he said bluntly, taking the chicken by both legs and hanging it upside down expertly. The chicken squawked, flapped for a few moments, then went limp as blood rushed to its head and rendered it immobile.
Ivanthe memorized the motion in amazement, swearing silently to use it in the future.
In an out-of-the-way corner, a metal cone had been riveted to the wall over a bloody bucket. Skep shoved the chicken right in, fishing its confused head out of the small opening at the bottom, then slit its throat with a single stroke of his knife and grabbed back onto the feet. A few seconds passed as blood drained, and then the animal was overtaken by a horrid thrashing that overtook its entire body. Had Skep not been holding its feet, Ivanthe had no doubt that it would have thrashed right out of the cone.
“Never seen a chicken culled before?” Skep chuckled at the boy’s wide-eyed stare.
Ivanthe shook his head without a word.
“They’re feisty buggers. Cut their heads off while they’re standing and they’ll run all over the place like mad. Seen it happen myself, when another apprentice thought he’d just make up what he was supposed to do.”
The chicken stopped moving eventually, and Skep gave the thing an experimental shake before cutting its head right off and yanking the body out of the cone.
“Now,” he said, “over here. We keep hot water around for a lot of things, but here’s a short way to dress a bird.”
There was a steaming cauldron in the back with nothing but boiling water. Skep grabbed a cloth, lifted the lid and dropped the headless bird into the froth.
“Nine trills,” he said, tapping his foot to keep time.
Nine trills passed, and then Skep took a pair of tongs and yanked the bird back out.
“You can’t always have boiling water on hand, I know,” he said, setting the bird on a nearby counter that was relatively clear. “But if you can, nine trills in it and the feathers come off like they’re nothing. Like this.” He began grabbing fistfulls of wet feathers, which came off so smoothly he was practically peeling them. “Works on ducks and geese, too, any bird you can fit in the pot. Cuts your plucking time in half. Here.” He tossed the still-feathered chicken back to Ivanthe. “Advice is free, you can do the rest yourself. Don’t know what your story is, but we like hard workers around here, especially if they’re on time. This work ain’t glorious, but old man Farlin will keep you fed if you stay loyal.” A nod, and Skep turned to go back to whatever he had been doing before. “I’m hoping to see you here again soon.”
Ivanthe nodded back, finding an empty corner to finish plucking the chicken by himself. Then, a bit too softly for Skep to hear, “You will.”
- End -