The current Master Cookiesmith was not the only one with a talent for life-giving confectionery. Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons had a passion for the specialized, intricate works of culinary magic which had been consistently overlooked ever since he first joined the ranks of the Guild of Cookiesmiths. Like everyone else, he had been singled out as a young child and locked in the Tower of Baking to learn his craft. He had worked hard, done well, passed all his examinations, and surpassed all expectations right up until his qualification as official Cookiesmith in the service of the Emperor. He worked alongside the current Master Cookiesmith, back when she was known simply as Cookiesmith Sparklecreme, adding the final touches to weaponized cookies and checking them for any possible imperfections. He was proud of his work, but, like Cookiesmith Sparklecreme, he preferred to spend his spare time creating unique, customized cookies infused with powerful enchantments. He reveled in experimentation, ever searching for new possibilities. He alone had unlocked the secret of the luminous cookie, which caused its consumer, bound to it by blood, to glow like the moon for three full days. He had come up with several powerful innovations for the weaponized cookies, including a compound which kept the edges of the gingerbread throwing discs sharp and true even after several uses. And he had used his own blood to infuse several energizing treats that allowed him to work several shifts on end without any pause or rest.
In short, he was, in his own mind, a visionary, a genius, and the most qualified candidate for the great responsibilities of the Master Cookiesmith.
And when the Emperor’s inspectors had come through the Guild, he had been stuck in a storeroom, checking the stocks, as a responsible cookiesmith was bound to do.
Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons rightfully deserved the title of Master Cookiesmith, and it had been stolen from him by bad timing, poor luck, and that subpar Cookiesmith Sparklecreme. Well, Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons had had enough of waiting around for the recognition he deserved.
In the midst of the crowd at the Stone of Oaths, he discreetly positioned himself near the path to the Forest of Souls. He dutifully kept his eyes pointed down, but he had excellent peripheral vision. When he noticed one figure in a cookiesmith apron walking backwards, he knew his moment had come. As soon as the Master Cookiesmith had disappeared into the trees, he slowly made his way to the nearest of the Emperor’s soldiers. It was a tricky position he was in. He had to get the soldier to go after her without admitting he had been paying attention to anything but the ground in front of him and his all-consuming sense of loyalty to the Emperor. He would have to be subtle, clever. He had spent half the night mulling over exactly which words to use, and the tone in which to say them. At last, his moment had come. He kept his head bowed down, partly because it was required, and partly because he didn’t want the soldier to recognize his face.
“Psst. Soldier.” The soldier was so surprised that one of the Emperor’s subjects was speaking to him during this solemn occasion that he was ready to hear what the cookiesmith had to say.
“How would you like to be known as the hero who saved the Emperor’s life from a traitor?”
The soldier liked that idea very much. “Go on.”
“I happen to know that there is such a traitor. And she is in the Forest of Souls right now. If you go quietly, you can capture her at the Fountain of Unending Prosperity.”
The soldier gave herself a moment to imagine his reward, should he save the Emperor’s life from a traitor. He reveled in the fantasy for a moment before moving briskly towards the forest, instantly forgetting about the anonymous cookiesmith.
As he neared the Fountain, a terrible thought occurred to him. What if this was a trap? If he had really left the Stone of Oaths on this solemn day and did not have proof that it was only to save the Emperor’s life, he would be punished beyond comprehension. What if that cookiesmith (suddenly remembered) had been trying to trick him? What if this was a trap?
He crept forward until he was within sight of the Fountain. There was no one there. He hid himself behind a tree and cursed under his breath. What was he going to do now? The Empire stretched across all the lands, and there was nowhere he could run where he would be safe from the punishment for abandoning his post on the Day of Cleansing. He had never known relief such as that which he felt when he saw the aproned cookiesmith step out from the trees.
“Stop right there!”
It was unfortunate, what had happened to the Master Cookiesmith. Or the former Master Cookiesmith, to be accurate. There was a new Master Cookiesmith now.
It wasn’t Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons, however, who had been answering the call of nature when the inspectors came to the guild looking for a replacement for the condemned.
He sat on his cot that night, taking a good long soak in a sea of self pity, and considered whether it had really been necessary to allow… that… to happen to his former colleague. But there was no changing that now. It was done with, and he didn’t have the stomach to depose yet another Master Cookiesmith. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps he should be content with his perfectly respectable duties in the weaponized cookie department.
At least he had his prize. Silently, he eased it out from its hiding place inside his mattress. The Emperor’s life-giving cookie shone with a gentle light from inside its case.