This is a series of exerpts taken from The Life Of A Dragon to prove that gastronomy can be discreetly introduced in any story or novel, be it fiction or not!
Downstairs, in the kitchen, Ekan and Naeem were experimenting with a new dish. His apprentice’s father had caught another succulent germon fish. Since a lot of people ate shellfish raw, good fish could also be appreciated in its natural taste, he reasoned. But not being able to predict his customers’ reactions with raw fish, he had decided on trying something halfway. He had chosen and cut a fillet of the fish, grilled it lightly first without any seasoning. As soon as the colour on the whole surface had changed to a light brown, he plunged the fillet into cold water to stop it cooking. The water came from the deep well in the back of the garden. He had to be careful not to upset his clients’ stomachs. He then proceeded to cut the fish into thin slices. He tried one for taste. He dipped another slice into a bowl containing a mixture of oliva oil, sweet vinegar and spices. The sweet vinegar had been another recent discovery of his. He had found out that by slowly heating normal vinegar mixed with some wine and crushed berries for a long time; he could concentrate it to a syrupy texture like he did when reducing other sauces. He handed the slice to Naeem to try while he repeated the process for himself.
“What do you think?” he asked the young man.
“Very tasty, actually! But you had better go easy with the dressing. A dash should be enough.”
“You’re right! Let’s see if we can dress a salad.”
Master Turgas chose that moment to enter the kitchen.
“Jonas, your good friend Petren is in the common room. He’d like some of your tidbits with his ale. Can you help him?”
“Sure! I just happen to have the right thing for him!”
Taking a plate, he put some fresh leaves of various vegetables the gardener had been growing on Ekan’s orders, placed a few slices of the germon fish on top and seasoned it with the dressing they had just tasted.
Turgas had a dubious look at the food.
“Do you think a man of Petren’s constitution will be satisfied with that lady’s portion?”
“Definitely! Moreover, it is about time that he began eating something good for him. All that drinking will catch up with him someday. Let’s mix it with some proper food, at least!”
Petren was sitting at his usual table tucked away from the main attention. Ekan put the plate with a fork in front of him.
“Constable, good evening to you! Would you be kind enough to try a new dish of ours? It’s on the house!”
Petren, who was obviously expecting more heavy fare, looked down at his plate and then up at the Black Dragon’s face.
“Jonas, what is this? It certainly looks beautiful but do you honestly think a man of my size will be satisfied with a meal more fit for the table of a noble’s daughter?”
Ekan sat down smiling at the irascible guard.
“Knowing your eating habits, it will do you immense good to ingest proper food. Anyway, why don’t you try first? I’m positive this will go down well with your ale. If you are still hungry after that I’ll think of something else.”
Petren grumbled on:
“As if I needed somebody to coddle me!” Holding his fork in front of his eyes: “And why do I have to use these picks when a knife and a spoon should be enough?” He nonetheless stabbed a slice of fish and some leaves together and brought them to his mouth and started chewing.
Ekan saw his expression slowly changing from puzzlement to growing pleasure. The Constable stabbed another piece of fish without forgetting to add some vegetables and engulfed the lot into his maw.
“I’ll be damned!” he growled. “Who could have foretold that one day I would enjoy woman’s food? That stuff is simply great! All my apologies, Jonas! If this is what you meant by good food, I’m ready to change my habits!… Well, some of them…”
“The pleasure is mine and you are forgiven! I’ll tell you what: this could make a good enough reason to come and visit us. Just call me for anything new I might have prepared, and we shall be able to conduct our small private talks without raising any unwelcome curiosity!”
“Well, next time will have to wait. I’m leaving for Villefranche tomorrow at dawn.”
“You are finally going to rid us of all those jailbirds and other more unsavory characters?”
“That’s right, but it is a pain in the arse to take them all the way down to Beaulieu. Well, it’s for the good of the city and the nation, and if the Judge hadn’t ordered me to accompany them in person, I surely would have found somebody to take care of that damn chore!”
“I doubt it. Knowing you too well, I’m sure you would not have left that job in just anybody’s hands!”
“Maybe, I must admit. But that is not the only reason for my coming tonight. You are invited by the Royal Couple to dinner.”
Ekan did not bother to hide his annoyance.
“May I know the justification for such a request?”
“Aren’t we grouchy tonight? I must confess I share your repugnance, but in this particular case, the Judge himself has suggested Their Highnesses should meet you. If that can make you happier, know that since I have to go there with the two of you, we shan’t have to visit them before I have come back and that won’t be before two weeks’ time!”
“I thought the Judge knew better than taking me away from work for the good pleasure of some pampered idle noble people!”
“Jonas, I suspect that he has included you in our very small circle for reasons I can’t start to imagine, but these words of yours are tantamount to high treason!”
“Spare me, Petren! I am aware of what you think of our so-called King and his kin. The Judge would do well to suggest they all go to Beaulieu where they are building an Embassy just for them to make themselves useful. Do you honestly think they will be making the decisions when war comes to us?”
“War? What do you mean?”
“Do you think that slavers’ ship should be the last to appear on our shores? Mark me, they will come back and in larger numbers than you would ever think!”
“How do you know this?”
“Petren, sorry for not telling you now and sorry again for making you angry. Be certain only that I am truly concerned with the welfare of your nation. One day, we shall be together in the fray. By that time, you will come to understand why the Judge asked for my help. In any case do not tarry in Villefranche. We shall have heaps of work to do and you shall be sorely needed!”
Ekan rose up, and amicably squeezing the Constable’s shoulder, he went to the kitchen leaving a confused Petren at his table.
Petren sat silent for a long time in front of his jug and empty plate. Truly, things were beginning to happen. He was far more crafty and devious than he let people guess. Only that black giant could see through him. The Judge was a man whose orders he executed without any discussion or comments. But Jonas was fast becoming a friend, and he did not feel comfortable with that new concern. Or was it the other way round? Could he live with the fact that somebody was caring about his person?
Shaking himself, Petren called in a booming voice:
“Master Turgas, bring me another plate of the same, will you? It’s about time I enjoyed truly good food, too!”
The few late drinkers in the lounge and at the bar looked at each other in wonder. What had the big soldier eaten to bring out such a civilized comment out of him?
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