Chef Jakub – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 34

Once Luke had confirmed the validity of my plan he and I returned to the hills and harvested armfuls of Fiddlehead. Enough to feed at least ten people. That afternoon we prepared the roots and stems and the leafs. Then we brought them and our pots and utensils and two jars of honey, just in case, along with the serums, to Massoud’s camp.

Massoud had drawn together a group of men including Ahmed. Each had stern yet wise glaring eyes and they sat in a large circle on the floor of Massoud’s tent, each cross legged on a cushion. There were eleven of them. All waiting in silence for me explain the ceremony, Massoud himself interpreting for me. The surprised and confused expressions on their faces mimicked Massoud’s disbelief the previous night. But by the time that I handed out the lemon water though they were all eager and took a cup each. As I let them absorb the serum I boiled the sliced roots in front of them. They all looked to Massoud, but he sat with arms folded, encouraging them to be calm. Minute by minute the slices of root danced in the pot, over which the stems steamed. Luke stood next to me as the small metal box of hot embers under the pot worked its magic. Outside we had already placed the honeyed leafs in a pot hung over a cooking fire so that they would be roasted by the time that the traders finished the steams. When the time came Luke set plates in front of each diner and I followed him around the room with a ladle and dished out a small helping of roots to each diner. Laughter and scoffs disappeared in a flat gasp as the first slices of root were put to lips.

It was just as it had been with Luke. Again, there was an excitement emblazoned on the crowd that removed their outward self-control and replaced it with an apparent giddiness. In no time the stems were heaved into gaping mouths and washed down with laughter. Luke and I knew straight away that we had achieved another success, of course, but when we pulled the pot form the fire outside the tent and the smell of the honey reached the waiting men crowded around Massoud and Ahmed a howl came so foreign that it startled me like a foal in a storm. I hurried to serve the pack of beasts that had descended into clawing at the table and pounding their fists in order to hasten the final dish. I thought that they would grab at the plates once the steam had been served but when scent of the honeyed leafs wafted up from to their noses the tent fell into a sudden and crashing silence.

Again I looked to Luke as he looked to me. We looked around the room and all the diners sat transfixed on the final course. They each sat stock still, staring at the steaming honeyed leafs. At then at once, as if signalled, yet not, they all dove onto their meals as if famished to the brink of death. Their synchronicity was chilling, but it made me proud. The rampant animals which these cultured men had become vanished and an absentminded, joyous look of pleasure swept across their faces. That night remains clear in my mind, even to this day. It was the first time my cooking had received such a rowdy response. I had thought it was going to rush out of my control, but at the last moment Massoud and Ahmed and their guests all fell back in line. It was one of my favourite evenings for the emotion involved, if not for the fear of being torn to shreds by a tent for of strangers.

That night Luke and I packed up all of our belongings and arranged with a man in the slums to give us a shack for a few days by paying him with some of the gems Ahmed he given us. The slums on the hills overlooked the bay and though we didn’t leave that shack for days we had a beautiful view of the ocean and the ships as the went about their business below us. It was a disgusting place. The smells and the sight of some of the poorest people we had even seen weighed on us both. It was all too familiar and reminiscent of the villages our people returned to after the war back home. But we knew what we doing. We sat it out while Massoud and him men searched for us, spreading our names and our fame. We knew that the longer we hid then the more desperate and vocal the traders would become, and so, the better it was for Luke and I.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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