And so we began to craft our names in the Bay of Ferns. The clientele there was so varied that we were unsure who to cater to – the sailors all ate in large groups, the locals cooked at home and the traders ate in their camps outside the town. We soon realised that the traders were the key because their dining experience could be contained. They were, however, both more rugged and more cultured than the other groups in the Bay community. Many of the traders were vegetarians, which gave me a specific starting point. It also meant that didn’t need to concern myself with a lot of ingredients, so I could focus on dishes that were simple – meaning less work for me. Luke and I soon made acquaintances with some traders and traded furs with them over a few days before we offered to cook for them. At first they were taken aback, but we soon won them over with genuine and respectful declarations that played their curiosity against their worldly self-image.
In the camps on the outskirts of the Bay we met with a dark skinned man named Massoud. He spoke broken English and he had a beard but no moustache. He was as rugged as the other traders but he had light coloured eyes that made him appear younger than her was, but beneath his youthful appearance lay the superior mind of a well-travelled and tough individual. Not only had he risen to command his own routes, he had been an avid reader since his earliest years and had read all manner of eastern philosophy and treaties on all things from warfare to romance. He was a fascinating person, but above all he was a means to an end.
Massoud received Luke and I in his tent, alone. He had his guards stand watch outside and he entertained us handsomely before I delivered my new speech. I had worked on it for months in the cabin and practiced it with Luke countless times. In a basic form, so as to accommodate Massoud’s less than perfect command of the language, I dazzled our host with promises. I had him. This stranger to me. This man of men intrigued by the ceremony. I had been careful to avoid any religious elements to the ceremony for just such occasions and was thankful then that I had. I don’t think that would have stopped Massoud anyway.
When the serum had taken effect I turned around, having sat with my back to Massoud under a preparatory pretence, and presented him with a plate covered by a silk cloth. His pale eyes lit up at once. It was clear that he had been expecting something more substantial, however, the small size of the plate and its contents captured his curiosity. I placed the dish down on the low table in front of him and he rubbed his hands like a child. For a man so rugged and sure in himself it was interesting to see how much the serum had changed his outward behaviour. Other people seemed no different once under its influence, but Massoud was ecstatic.
He raised the Royal Plum and bit into it, then churned himself into a knot of expressive delight. Like a small child he bounced where he sat, touched his elbows together across his chest and made fists which he lifted under his chin. Leaning back, he kicked his feet out from under himself and shot his arms up into the air with a bizarre glee that brushed aside the last semblances of his masculinity. I was dumbfounded and looked to Luke who sat there looking at me, dumbfounded. Massoud continued to romp within himself for a further half hour, pausing only to gobble up the rest of the plum before disappearing into insanity again and then he returned back to us. We administered the second serum in a glass of fruit juice and then left him wanting more.
The very next day Massoud appeared at our rented room accompanied by another man. Massoud were electrified and garbled an introduction to Ahmed, his son. We welcomed them into our humble abode were all four of us stood for a lack of enough seating. Massoud was shocked and disgusted at the hovel in which we were living. He insisted that we come to his camp again that night and cook for his son and his men, but I refused – lying to him that we had arranged another meal elsewhere. Our guests’ disappointment was clear, but they remained composed. Ahmed removed a small pouch from one of the folds of his clothing and held it on his outstretched palm. Using his other hand he undid the knotted string that held it shut and exposed its contents. Small green and red stones about the size of peas shone in the gloom of our pitiful home. I looked to Luke. He looked to me. We looked at Massoud and then Ahmed. Then we looked back at each other.
“Ok”, I said.
And then extended my hand, into which the little pouch was placed. Massoud was almost giddy, Ahmed acted as if he was more mature, but Luke and I knew that we had secured the first step toward getting into the Mayor’s kitchen. Once our guests left we watched them from the doorway until they were out of sight and then cheered and hugged each other in celebration. The sense of achievement was simmering, but we wasted no time in setting about creating a meal that would reach beyond Massoud’s tent and bring us the attentions of the whole of the Bay of Ferns.
As they were travellers I knew that the traders had eaten all kinds of food, including ingredients from places that I had never been, so I decided to cut the vast expanse of potential flavours to a minimum. The Royal Plums grew high in the mountains and had already engulfed Massoud’s imagination, so I looked to the lowlands for my inspiration for the traders’ feast. I settled on one plant, the Fiddlehead Ferns, and harvested them on the hills surrounding the Bay. I knew that they had to be cook to become edible, so I boiled the roots, then steamed the stems and roasted the coiled leafs in honey. In that order I served Luke the Fiddlehead feast and again he felt the rushing surge of the earthy roots sharing their flavour and their age old patience with him, then he felt the urgency of the stems before the honeyed leafs took him flying through a lofty, sweet taste of the ferns and the labour of countless bees. I wasn’t as extravagant as the Mayor’s Feast was going to be, but the traders’ journey was to be a similar venture from the soil to the sky, assisted of course by the honey.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey