When we were not two hundred yards down the road, I let Hysteria drop to a trot, for in truth I did not expect anyone to follow us into the night, daring wild animals, bandits, or hobgoblins, regardless of how fine a piesmith Mistress Gaston was reported to be. A few hundred yards beyond that, my horse dropped of her own accord to a walk and I expect she was beginning to feel a bit mopey because of the slap the orphan had dealt her. At that moment I was less interested in her mental condition than my own physical one though, because I was holding a cast pie pan in each hand and they were both heavy and still quite warm.
“Here.” I turned in the saddle and handed one pie to the orphan. “We can eat while we ride. If we wait until we find a campsite, the pies will be cold.”
“Do you have a fork?” the boy asked.
I mused that this seemed an unlikely request from any boy, most of whom I have found uninterested in tableware on the best occasion, and especially from an orphan whom one might have supposed to have been forced by necessity to dig into all manner of food scraps with his hands. However it was not a question to which I needed reply in the negative, for I always carry my fork in the inner left breast pocket of my coat, which I call my fork pocket. I gave the orphan my fork and pulled my knife from my boot to use on the remaining pie.
“This is a very nice fork,” said the orphan.
“Of course it is,” said I. “That fork came from the table of the Queen of Aerithraine herself.”
“You stole this fork from a Queen?”
“Impudent whelp!” cried I. “That fine fork was a gift from the queen, with whom I once had the pleasure of spending a fortnight.”
“What kind of queen gives a man a fork?”
“A kind and gracious one.”
That apparently satisfied the boy’s curiosity for the moment and for the next few minutes we concentrated upon the pies. I am not one to mourn a lost pie and that is well, for the pie that was lost to me on that night, as I have previously mentioned, was a pie for the ages. A fine pie. A beautiful pie. A wonderful pie. This new pie was almost as good though. It was a crabapple pie, which was a common pie to come upon in winter in those parts, which is to say Brest, as cooks used the crabapples they had put up the previous fall. This pie was an uncommonly good pie, with nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves and butter. I had more than a few bites by the time the boy spoke again.
“What kind of pie is that?”
“Crabapple,” I replied. “What pie do you have?”
“It is a meat pie.”
“A meat pie,” I mused, as I thought back upon how long it had been since I had eaten any other meat than venison. I had eaten a sausage a week before, but it had been a fortnight and half again since I had eaten mutton stew with potatoes and black bread in Hammlintown. That had been a fine stew and the serving wench who brought it to me had been nice and plump with the top two buttons of her blouse undone, and she had smiled quite fetchingly when she had set down the tray. Stew is a wonderful food and even when it is not served by a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone. It always seems to give me the same feeling when I eat it that a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone gives me when I see her.
“What are you doing now?” asked the orphan.
“Pondering stew,” said I.
“Well stop it. Rather ponder this instead. You eat half of your crabapple pie and I will eat half of my meat pie. Then we can trade and eat the other halves of each others pies.”
“All right,” I agreed. “But this will mean that I have to eat my dessert first and my supper after.”
“Just pretend that the meat pie is your dessert and the crabapple pie is your supper.”
“A crabapple pie could be a fine supper. In fact I have been to countries where the most common part of a supper is crabapple pie.”
“But a meat pie is in no country a dessert.”
“Then trade me now.”
“How much have you eaten?” I asked.
“About a fourth. How much have you eaten?”
“About a fifth.”
“Then eat another twentieth,” said he. “Then we will trade pies and each eat two thirds of what remains and then trade them back. At that point, we will each eat what remains of the pie we originally started with. That way you can think of the first portion of the crabapple pie as an appetizer, the portion you eat of the meat pie as your supper, and the final portion of the crabapple pie as your dessert.”
“You are a fine mathematician for an orphan,” said I, “but it suits me. Will it not bother you that your appetizer and your dessert are of meat pie and your supper is of crabapple pie?”
“I have decided that I will make this sacrifice,” said he, “since it was you that provided the meal.”