Halle motions were mechanical as he stared out the window at the billowing smoke in the distance, beyond the walls of the city. The executions were onto their second trial, with no end in sight. He hoped that his neighbors and friends were not caught up in the chaos, on either side; he hoped that they had the sense to stay out of such fruitless displays of violence. This was an all-consuming reign Raelia was bearing witness to, an ochlocracy that would leave behind only ash when their fury finally consumed itself, soot that the survivors could smear across their face in grief. Hopefully it would not come to that. Not that he would intervene, of course. He was neither Ragnari nor mobster, mage nor Outlander. Just Halle, and Halle still had to eat; nothing happening outside could change that. His usual haunts were closed, so it was up to him to feed himself. Hopefully that went better than his other attempts.
Looking away from the window, Halle returned his focus to the task at hand, something he had been taught to do before ever starting the cooking process: washing his hands. He set the bar of soap aside, gently placing it in its wooden tray, and dipped his well-lathered hands into the water basin. Fingers intertwined and palms pressed against one another as the Lothar ran over every inch of skin with thorough attention. The clear liquid turned murky, a good sign of his efforts. After a bit passed, he retracted his hands from the basin and dried them off on a small towel specifically set aside for his hands. Halle smiled, remembering for a moment how he used to use his pants legs instead; oh, how his mother would hound him for such counterproductivity.
Halle left the basin and towel beside the windowsill for now; he’d return them to the bathroom later, after he was done cooking. He glanced over at the woodstove, checking briefly on the logs crackling in its base. Flames licked at the oak pieces, but there was still a little time before the flames started to really consume the wood. He still had time to prepare the dish while the stove warmed up.
The ingredients were where he had set them before washing his hands, on the small table that served as both his prep station and his dining area. The apartment was too small for additional counter space, so Halle had to make do with this set-up. Not that he was complaining, of course; no one had forced him to live in such cramped quarters, and things like this did not inconvenience him much.
Before Halle jumped headfirst into the preparation, he pored over the bookmarked page out of the Recipes for the Everyday Raelian. It was a simple enough dish for friend salmon, but the Lothar did not trust himself to prepare anything without following the instructions.
First, he focused on mincing the garlic. Snatching up the head, Halle dug a fingernail into the plant, peeling away its papery skin away with clumsy technique. It came off in mismatched, requiring several attempts before the majority of it had been pulled off. From there, he sat the head against the table and used the palm of his hand to apply pressure to it from above, loosening the cloves. He only needed one for the recipe, so he plucked one away from the head and then set the latter aside, out of his way.
Then, snatching up his kitchen knife by the hilt, Halle began peeling the clove itself. He started by cutting away the root end in one motion, brushing it aside with his free hand. From there, he pressed the flat side of the blade against the clove, using his palm a second time to apply pressure to the clove. A second round of pressure followed to further crush the garlic. Halle turned the blade longways, reaching with his middle and forefinger to press against the tip of the blade as he proceeded to mince the garlic. His rocking motion was slow and deliberate as the Lothar tried to familiarize himself with the process while also taking precautionary methods against cutting himself. It took longer than it should have, but he was successful none the less.
Halle left the garlic where it sat for now, turning his attention to the salmon fillets next. He unwrapped the fish from their preserving paper, reaching for the small containers of salt and black pepper with his free hand. The Lothar seasoned the fillets from top to bottom, just as the recipe instructed, brushing the spices across the meat with gentle strokes from his thumb. Once he was satisfied, he set the fillets aside for now.
Snatching up a small mixing bowl and a spoon from the edge of the table, Halle glanced over the recipe for the next part before continuing. He started with the oil, pouring out two teaspoons into the measuring cup before dumping it into the bowl. Two tablespoons of whole grain mustard, one tablespoon brown sugar, a half teaspoon of thyme leaves followed, along with the minced garlic that he swept on the flat side of his blade with his index finger. Halle used the spoon to whisk the ingredients together, maintaining a consistent motion while he watched the concoction mix together. Setting the spoon aside, Halle took two steps over to the stove, grabbing the frying pan off of its shelf and returning to his station. He splashed a bit more oil into the pan before dropping the fillets into it. He finished up his prep by pouring the mixture over the fillets, spreading it out afterwards with the bottom of the spoon.
Halle moved back to the cookstove, which was crackling with fervor by this point, and set the pan down on one of the small grates above the opening. Flames licked at iron as the heat began to sear the salmon in the pan. From here, it was mostly a waiting game, counting down the bits and watching the skin to know when to flip it. The Lothar kept count in his head, two-hundred trills on one side, give or take, then flip and let cook for one-hundred eighty trills more. Halle fetched a spatula while the fillets cooked before returning to watch from a safe distance, so as not to get splashed by the hot oil that flew from the pan every once in a while.
At the four-minute mark, after the skin had taken on a golden-brown color, Halle flipped the fillets. The recipe said that the salmon could be considered cooked when it was firm to the touch and the skin was crispy. He tested them at the two-bit mark and the two-and-a-half as well with the spatula, wincing in pain when oil splashed onto his forearm. It took until the third bit until he was satisfied. From there, he scooped the fillets free.
He was plating them at his dining table when he could hear the footsteps coming suddenly up behind him. Then, the breath just against the nape of his thick neck. Yet, when he turned, there was no one. It had been happening for several trials now, ever since those mysterious doors suddenly appeared, snapping open at the stroke of midnight. Halle didn’t know what to make of it besides that it was unnerving. The Lothar enjoyed the company of others, but he preferred them to have corporeal bodies and faces of men and women that he knew had not died decades ago.
Halle tensed as the footsteps began again, from the hallway of his apartment complex, with an arrival punctuated by the raps of knuckles against his door. Setting the salmon aside, the Lothar said, “Coming,” as he moved over to his dresser, snatching up his pair of fingerless leather gloves and slipping them on. Its been said that the mob was persecuting Immortal marked these days, so Halle figured it was best to keep his Sombran marks concealed when around strangers.
The Lothar cracked the door open, planting his body against the frame; it would take quite the shove from whoever was on the other side to get past the man. Thankfully Alan, Halle’s neighbor from down the hall, was not the kind of man to try such a stunt. He barely came up to Halle’s shoulder with hands more used to sliding beads across the wire of his abacus than breaking into homes.
Alan flashed a nervous smile at the Lothar, glancing down the hallway before speaking. “Crazy out there isn’t it?”
“Very,” Halle replied, stepping back to open the door completely.
Alan nearly dove into the entranceway, but etiquette reined him in. “I went to go see if Mama Gee was still open this morning and I nearly got swept up by a band of those protestors. Just isn’t safe out there these days anymore. Better to hide away and wait for sanity to be restored once more.”
“Aye, but no need to cower alone when company is available. Come come, I just finished cooking lunch. How do you feel about salmon?” Halle practically dragged his neighbor in, sparing a single glance into the hallway before shutting his door. His lock made a comforting click as he turned to follow Alan into the open space. Through his window, the Lothar could see that smoke had thickened outside the wall.
May it be gone soon.