Today’s Story A Day in May story is a tale from Istok. A storyteller in my fantasy trilogy, SAGE, told an Alith Mayros story, and I liked it so much I asked him to tell me another. No, I’m not crazy, I’m just a writer. We’re kinda like that.
I didn’t write a post for Fatal Foodies today; since today’s story is about food, I just linked to this.
The Sweetest Dish
by Marian Allen
They tell this tale in Istok:
Long, long, ago, back in the days when there wasn’t much yet to tell, there lived a man named Alith Mayros, the Cook Who Couldn’t Lie. He worked for nobody in particular, and for any village that would include him in their food sharing. His excellence was known throughout Istok, yet no village pressed him to stay long, for his skill was spiced with truth, and truth is often unpalatable.
One day, a message came to the village where Alith Mayros was living, saying that the Primarch wanted to see him.
“I don’t want to go,” he told the messanger. “The Primarch is an ungrateful brute.”
If anyone else had said this, he would have been bound and dragged along the roughest path until what was left of him was deposited at the Primarch’s feet. But this was the Cook Who Couldn’t Lie, and he had leave to always speak the truth.
“The Primarch is the Spouse of Istok,” said the messenger, as firmly as if he believed it.
“Does the Primarch have his Chief Warrior in a pit, or doesn’t he?”
“The Chief Warrior defied him. The Primarch was right to overcome him. And the Primarch calls you now. You will come. I have orders to burn this village to the ground if you refuse.”
So Alith Mayros went.
When he stood before the Primarch, he was in company with another man and a woman.
The Primarch spoke, saying, “The three of you are the best cooks in Istok, or so I’ve been told. It pleases me to set you a contest. When I visited the court of Kudasad, the meal ended with a special dish called a dessert. It was sweet, like honey, but it was more than honey. Each of you will make me a sweet dish. The one I like the best can claim a fine reward. You have one week to choose a recipe and have my runners collect the ingredients.”
The three cooks drew straws to see who would go first, then the other two drew straws to see who would go last. Alith Mayros drew the final place.
Although the construction of a dish unknown of in the country of Istok was an unreasonable demand, the Primarch left the three free to come and go as they pleased, for who in Istok is ever out of the Primarch’s eyesight?
So, on the first night, the man who was to go first whistled at the door of Alith Mayros’ guest hut and went in to sit at the central fire.
“What are you making?” For he knew that Alith Mayros had wandered in the wilderness beyond Istok’s borders, and knew the ways of barbarians.
Alith Mayros would have preferred to keep that to himself, but he couldn’t tell a lie, so he said, “I’m making lemon shortbread.”
“How do you make it? What goes into it?”
And Alith Mayros gave him the recipe.
The next day, the man ordered all the ingredients for lemon shortbread, and wouldn’t meet Alith Mayros’ eye.
That night, the woman cook came to Alith Mayros’ hut.
“What are you making?”
Alith Mayros clamped his teeth shut, but the truth pried them open, and he said, “I’m making chocolate honey mousse.”
“How do you make it? What goes into it?”
And he told her.
The next day, she ordered all the ingredients for chocolate honey mousse and wouldn’t meet Alith Mayros’ eye.
“The truth is a curse,” said Alith Mayros. “Oh, what I wouldn’t give for one little lie!”
The days passed, and Alith Mayros ordered no ingredients, built no ovens, requested no utensils.
When the week was up, each of the other cooks presented their dishes, the first on one night, the next on the next night. When asked, “Who is responsible for this dish?” each one answered, “I am.” The Primarch loved each sweet dish, although he withheld his judgment until he tasted what Alith Mayros had to offer.
The lemon shortbread had been served on a plate of polished and elaborately carved ebony. The chocolate honey mousse had been served in a bowl of white jade. Alith Mayros brought in a flat-bottomed pan of unfired clay, crudely made, and topped with a slab of the same.
The Primarch’s eyes lit up, for only food of a surpassing fineness would be served so roughly.
He removed the lid to reveal what Alith Mayros had brought him: a pan filled with dirt.
The Primarch roared his rage. The other two cooks pressed themselves against the chamber’s walls, terrified that the Primarch’s anger might splash onto them. The Primarch’s guardsmen readied themselves to execute his orders. Alith Mayros simply waited his chance to speak.
When his first fury had passed, the Primarch, seeing Alith Mayros’ calm, looked again at what sat before him. He wet a finger, touched the dry black crumbles in the pan, and lifted the finger to his mouth.
Scowling afresh, he said, “It’s just dirt. Dirt!”
Alith Mayros said, “It isn’t just dirt. It’s the dirt of Istok. Is anything sweeter than your own soil?”
The Primarch looked long at Alith Mayros, fists on the table, nostrils flaring, the scent of Istok’s richness filling the room.
“Who is responsible for this dish?”
“Your Chief Warrior, confined in a pit for doing no more than I do: for telling the truth.”
The Primarch struck the table with one fist, then the other, then both together, signaling a pronouncement. His guardsmen stood to attention, awaiting his order.
“Release my Chief Warrior,” he said. “Restore him to his hut. See that he’s tended to as if he were an honored guest. When his heart is no longer filled with rancor over his unjust imprisonment, let him return to his duties, and let him be hereafter known as the Warrior Who Speaks the Truth.”
When one of the guardsmen had left to carry out the order, the Primarch eyed the three cooks. The other two fell to their knees, certain that the Primarch’s next question to Alith Mayros would be, “Did these two steal their recipes from you?” Instead, he said, “Your reward is three cows each. Take them and go back to your villages, and never let me hear of you again.”
But Alith Mayros was given unlimited claim on the Primarch’s cattle, a wealth that assured his welcome in any village he might wander into, however unpalatable the truth that he might bring with him.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: police officer, dessert recipes, little bastards that are causing you misery