Up there, in the mountains, I mourned the man who had granted me the chance to become what I had sought out to be. He had done it for his own ends, but regardless, he had given me an opportunity to grow like no other ever had. We didn’t think ourfuture then, we were just surviving. We pushed north and walked like ghosts lost in the ether. We rationed what supplies we had and moved by night, thankful that the stars there were the same as those Luke and I had grown up under. It was a painful time, both for our bodies and our hearts, but we two brothers had one another, and that was enough to make it through anything. After we had run out of no rations, herders came upon us one morning as we bedded down with desperation in our souls. They called to us and raised their arms, but when they saw what we had been reduced to they gave us water and dates. I was like that day in the cabin, that water pouring into us in sips like a waterfall of living hope and gratitude. Luke and I didn’t have their language, not they ours, but we made our way with them to an awful hovel of a place built around a well. We had passed it by only by a mile or so the day before we met the herders, but we didn’t care. It was our chance to live.
A few shacks and a dust road were all that greeted us. The eyes of the inhabitants were judgemental and suspicious, of course, but we walked with our humbled hearts on our sleeves. We were glad to be alive and followed our rescuers as they traded and drew water. I hadn’t seen the real wilds of The Gulf until then. The passionate indulgences of the palace had shielded me from the cold realities that the people of the lowest standing lived with everyday. They were dishevelled wrecks, but not without their dignity. They were all armed, but none of them were outright threatening. They were just of a different world than any people we had met before. We moved out that same day, opting to remain with the herders, trading our few valuables, some rings and our pocketwatches. They were decent people, those simple folk.
A few long and tiring days later we were led to the coast and bartered labour for passage north. It was a frozen land, a bleak and restless place that felt familiar to Luke and I, and soon we were alone again, finding our way as we had before, all those years previous. To be honest, I was a harsh life there, but my brother and I carved out an existence that kept us from the elements. We established a small cabin and made traps and snares to sustain ourselves, as had we in our childhood. In the following springI again began my search for flavours in the rudimentarykitchen we had built.
We were nestledon a jutting finger of land at the foot of a mountain, near where a river narrowed at the edge of thewoods that carpeted the entire region. Our rough cut cabin stood a natural clearingthat hung a good dozen yards over the river and gave a view of the surrounding land to the south the west and the north. There was nothing there that man had laid his hands on, nature ruled in all her savage glory -from the carcasesleft by the wolves for crows to pick clean to the burning dawn skies that lit the clouds above with vibrancy. There we were free again, at the mercy of the elements, but free.
We had been drinking the water from the river for weeks before I began my tests butas soon as I drank it under the influence of the serum I had a flash similar to the Sky Fire. It brought me back to a time where I could feel the absence of all people. Somehow, I knew that there were no human beings then. I felt a sense of nature that had not yet begun to hate our kind. It was calm and so ancient that a wise gentleness pervaded the flavour of the roots I cooked in that water. It sparkled with the metallic and organic flavours of a land that had long since worn away, yetI felt nothing but the settled relaxation that came calling to me through the water. It was a bliss of the body and the mind and a mystery. Antangible opennesscaressed me and lulled my cold soul. But all too soon I awoke confused and unable to define the experience to Luke.
That night we sat and pondered why the water had been so powerful. We knew that it wasn’t the roots. They themselves had shuddered echoes of their lineage as all foods do under the serums. It was a long hour sat beside the fire thinking before Luke unearthed the reason. We had them in our homeland too, only we had never considered the presence of glaciers where we were. We had never hiked up to the summit of the mountain we had perched our cabin on, but we were certain. And the more I thought about it more I wanted to use the glacial water as an ingredient.
We still had fossil dust and I had kept the seeds of the Sky Fire Oranges and Ancient Tomatoes. And the knowledge I had accumulated the previous two years gave me a foundation on which I felt confident enoughin my poor culinary skills. I sought out the most potent flavours I could to see how the calming effect of the glacial waterwould accompany it. Luke and I searched the woods for days, spending our nights under the starry skiesas we had in our youth. We sampled plants and bark and mosses, testing them by rubbing them on our skin before we ate them. We ate grubs and ants and fireflies that danced in the evening air. But in the end, it was a simple seed that gave all the spice we could have needed. Cardamom. It’s little husks belied a brutish strength that seared the lips and tongue and brought forth a fever of puffs and huffs and begged the very soul for water.All the water. Luke and I had tasted them together, face to face, and as we both ran downhill to the nearest river we both glanced at one another – knowing. On our knees, hands cupped, faces engulfed in clear liquid relief, we struggled through our words but our grunts and tears formed a happy language of our own.
That night I prepared the cardamom as Luke looked on from beside the fire. I had been hours and I could still taste the bloodlust of those little seeds in the back of my soul. They were that potent. I removed the shells andboiled them in the glacial river water. They looked innocuous, innocent even, but I knew. If the water didn’t performed as I had been hoping it would, I also knew that I would be in for a rough night. Once I had administered the first serum, watching Luke watch me, I raised the boiled seed and inspected it, then put it into my mouth.
I had expected a blast of heat to erupt inside me, but there was none. It took a moment or two, but the waters parted and gave way to a low growling hum, a distant dreg of a noise that I could feel chugging in a rumble inside my bones.It was a rugged whisper, but it crawled up within me and then sprawled out across my emotions and my body. I could not feel the heat, not as I had, but I could taste it as anelement of the seeds various components. I could taste the soil it grew in and deeper still I could taste all the things that had died to form that fertile mesh of dirt, and, on top of that, all the forbearers that went before each of them. It was the most complex of sensations and flavours that I had ever experienced. Furthermore, calmed by the glacial water, I could also taste the intent of the bean. It surged with need to spring forth and grow like a wild horse penned in. I could feel its dismay at being held within its shell. I knew its pain as I joined with it, more so than consumed it. The water had changed everything. It had brought me a filter through which I could control what I was tasting and feeling. Of course, when I awoke I knew what I needed to do.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey