Just a Small Pinch
Lohkawas entered the Laughing Crane Inn weary from a long day’s hunting. He knew he was not a great hunter, and not even a good hunter; proven by the two coneys in his pouch that had taken much longer to catch than he had thought having listened carefully and followed the instructions of the hunters at a camp just on the other side of the lake outside of Thunder Totem. The Innkeeper, Lao Shu, greeted Lohkawas kindly, and as is the way with great innkeepers, sensed that Lohkawas needed one of his strongest ales, one from the Stormstout Brewery in Pandaria. The monks of the Wandering Isle, home to the Laughing Crane, were capable of great brews, as the young Highmountain Tauren had found out when he joined them, but it was not until he had been to Pandaria and toured the famous Brewery had he found a deep and abiding love for dark ales, and tall tales to go with them. The cold mug was set on the counter as he stepped up, and Lohkawas asked for a favor.
“Good Master Shu, I have a recipe that I wished to try for a coney stew, and it calls for some Pandaren spices that I do not have access to in time to make this meal. I will gladly offer coin for a dash or two…”
Lao Shu served up another customer and listened to the request at the same time, and responded to Lohkawas that he was free to make use of the cooking stove at the end of the counter, and that he was free to check the spice containers. Lohkawas had helped clean the inn from time to time after training, a way of paying back all of the monks for their teachings, and Lao Shu was glad to oblige a hardworking monk trainee.
Lohkawas eased behind the counter and set to work. He had already skinned the coneys, and picked up a few carrots and onions from the farmers around the Wandering Isle. With Lao Shu’s assistance, and a word of advice from Yi, a friendly server, Lohkawas kneaded a variety of spices and pepper into the meat. It was not long for the water to boil and he tossed in the cut-up carrots and onions along with the coneys and added more spices to the bubbling water. The aroma from the pot was as described from the recipe and Lohkawas sat back to enjoy the ale.
He was just taking a long pull from a second ale, when a voice from the other side of the pot said, “Ahh, what are we cooking, here?” Lohkawas looked up to see a large, hefty Pandaren dipping a spoon into the pot and was about to stop him.
“Sir, it… “Lohkawas stopped, seeing a master among monks. He stood quickly, the stool clattering to the floor and trying to pick up the stool, Lohkawas stammered, “Master, it is a … well, it is not ready, and it is…” It was Stormstout, the Chen Stormstout, and while the younger monk had seen him many times sampling the Inn’s ales, he had never thought to speak with him.
“Ahhh, a coney stew,” said the master monk. “You should add a pinch more pepper, as it will boil out while you wait.”
“Uhm… well, yes, Master” Lohkawas said hastily, finally getting the stool to stand upright, but not without his antler thudding into the counter top, much to Lao Shu’s chagrin.
“And call me Chen, I’m sure you have seen me around and know that I will not stand for formality,” said the rotund monk..
“Well, uhm,,, yes, Master.”
Chen laughed deeply and reached for the pepper himself, noticing that the younger monk was standing and staring, and not pinching pepper into the pot. “There that will help,” Chen said with a large smile. “Come, sit back down, and let us have an ale.”
Chen eased the Highmountain Tauren into a chair and Lau Shu brought over another chilled mug with foam dripping down the sides. “Now, I see two coneys sitting in that pot, is one for me?” Chen laughed trying to set the young monk at ease.
Lohkawas looked aghast, his eyes wide and gulping as he shook his antlers from side-to-side. “I’m sorry, Master, it is for someone special.” Almost as the words were out, the horrified look in the young bull’s eyes could even worse, he quickly added, “Not, that you are not special…”
Chen Stormstout, so used to this reaction as though he were some legendary figure, laughed and assured the young monk that he had not taken the comment in any negative way. Chen then asked, “So, who is this coney stew for. Surely there is a tale worth telling.” Chen urged the young monk to quaff down the rest of the ale, and called for another round.
Lohkawas drank the ale as instructed, and slowly began to ease into the telling of a tale.
“This morning, I was sent for conditioning training, running through the mountains around Thunder Totem. Master Lish says that I am out of shape, that even mistweavers need to run and run to keep up with the brewmasters and windwalkers. So, I went out of Thunder Totem and up into the hills to the North, where the paths are not as steep.” Chen nodded, obviously not one for running either.
Lohkawas continued. “There are caves up the pathways, but I seldom enter, as they can become unmanageable if one goes too far in.” Lohkawas pointed to his antlers, which extended past his shoulders and made him seem much taller than his Thunder Bluff cousins. “And, there are fearsome beasts in some of the caves, which Master Lish has told me to avoid them unless I am with other monks.”
Chen nodded again, and interjected, “Master Lish speaks highly of your healing skills young mistweaver, but he says you cannot take a punch.” Lohkawas looked up sharply at these words, as though to comment, but Chen urged him to continue his tale.
“Well, I, uhm, had to slip into a cave. That is to say, I heard Bloodtotem coming down the path, and I thought it safer to hide, blend into the shadows as it were. They were loud and noisy, and I was not used to them being so far to the West of their lands. And they have been different of late,” the young monk paused briefly before continuing. “It is sad, for they are fierce fighters, and I fear they have become tainted by the corruption in our lands.” Lohkawas finished another ale and continued with a chagrined look. “It did not take long to realize my mistake and I was stuck between the Bloodtotem, with Torok, their chieftain at their fore, and Bristlemaul, a ferocious bear in his lair. I…” Lohkawas paused and sighed before continuing. “And, well, I turned too quickly and lodged an antler in a rock outcropping.” Lohkawas pointed to his left antler and Chen could discern scratches and gashes amongst the tattoos adorning the rack. I knew I was done for, but I determined to fight for all that I was worth. The bear charged me and hearing his growls, the Bloodtotem came to the mouth of the cave. They did not join in right away, laughing and ridiculing me; calling me ‘Bearmeat’. But I stopped caring about them, breathing as I have been taught to calm and center myself, and concentrated on my training, keeping myself healed, and hoping that my antler would come free from the rock as I dodged and struck at Bristlemaul.”
Chen took advantage of the pause in the story and said, “Add another pinch of pepper, for my nose tells me it has burned off again, and while I am intrigued by how you managed to escape this situation, since you sit here with me, I at least know part of the outcome.” Chen also strongly doubted that the young monk had “calmed and centered himself” at all. But a story is a story.
Lohkawas did as he was bidden, and nodding his antlers, he continued. “Well, behind me I heard gasps of surprise, and then weapons clanging. At first, I did not know who had come to my rescue, nor how many, but I felt relief and continued to fight Bristlemaul. It did not take long and soon a shield whistled past me striking the bear a finishing blow.” The story teller’s voice grew excited and Chen could tell, the young bull knew his rescuer, and surmised that the coney stew was being made in gratitude. But it was the wistful and hopeful look in the young bull’s eyes that drew Chen’s attention the most. Lohkawas then described attempting to turn and dislodge his antler, and that it was all he could do to cast a few healing spells at his rescuer as she decidedly beat off Torok and his cronies. “Once they were gone, running from her if truth be told, she came to stand before me, and tried to help me dislodge my antler. All the while she chattered at me, ‘Again, Lohkawas, how is it that I have rescued you again? Why would you go into a cave without seeing if there is a bear or other creature inside of it, and why are you meandering around the mountain side alone. I have told you before to only leave Thunder Totem with friends.” Lohkawas paused suddenly and became mindful of the many monks looking his direction around the bar.
“Do not mind them, they love a good story. And who is this rescuer?” Chen asked.
“Her name is Mokalyn. She is a paladin from Mulgore, and uhm, well, she is very beautiful, with a reddish-brown hide and two cute antlers… and very willful. She then told me to brace myself and with a great heave, she threw her shield into my chest and I flew backwards from the cave and landed on my back. She picked up her shield and stood over me, saying, ‘There, you are out of the cave, and do not go back in. Perhaps, it is time you repaid me with more than a sputtering thank you. I will have a meal tonight in the Inn, but it will be prepared by you. Let us see what you are good for, Highmountain.’ She did not even help me up, just slung her shield across her back and flew off, leaving me on the mountain path, lying on my backside.”
Chen stifled a chuckle seeing that the young bull looked embarrassed and indignant, and antlers over heels in love. “So, you are cooking a coney stew for her,” said the older monk. “That is wise on your part.” Chen stood and sniffed the contents of the pot one more time, as the bar patrons wisely went back to their brews and their dinners. “I am no expert at coney stew, but in other matters I have had much luck. Add one more pinch; just a small one,” he cautioned. “And then you shall have many more dinners with your Paladin, and you will find yourself one step closer to finding out who you are and what you have to offer your Tribe and your Order, young Lohkawas.” As Chen stepped away, he turned and added, “And, only one more ale, tonight. You have had plenty to calm your nerves for what lies ahead.” Chen chuckled at the confused expression but had no doubts that the young Hightauren monk would soon find his way in the world with a paladin named Mokalyn at his side.