A short interlude from my novel this week, with some work on my short stories instead. This one is another from my magic realism collection ‘Farfetched flavours’.
Farfetched Flavours 2
The heroic Hapacian honey bee produces the sweetest honey known to humankind. If one were forced to draw parallels with other foods, the closest sensation is comparable to that of one of those super-sour sweets one consumed as a child, like a fiery chilli pepper in intensity if not flavour or effect. If a honey could be classed as ‘daredevil’, this would be it. And yet, its subtle floral notes are not lost to the sweet sucker punch received by the consumer. Much in the same way the most potent chillies produce the best aromatic flavours, this honey makes one feel that we are the bees themselves, sipping the nectar straight from the flowers of the Hapace valley.
The bees’ journey and lifestyle is quite remarkable, and undoubtedly this unique apian civilisation has benefited considerably from careful cultivation, as humans join in the symbiosis that goes into this golden nectar.
The latest technology has been used to help the bees with hive construction and maintenance, and the honeycombs are treated with a mild acidic compound to render them transparent. The bees themselves are remarkably docile, perhaps after generations of living in harmony with the humans of the nearby city of the same name. The locals believe that it is this friendship between the species that creates the perfect environment for such a unique honey.
Situated some nine miles from the valley makes this almost double the journey most bees from elsewhere in the world are prepared to make for their sustenance. But sustenance is not the deciding factor here. Other flowering plants that could sustain the hives can be found in much more convenient proximity. Indeed, the bees use these flowers as ‘refuelling stations’ to reach their ultimate goal: the Hapace valley.
Humans have a part to play here, too. Acting like guiding beacons, series of bee-friendly flowering plants have been placed to assist the bees on their journey. Local experts, keen on optimising the bees’ route and maximising both survival rates and honey yield, have spent lifetimes making improvements based on an ever-increasing understanding of local weather patterns and subtle changes in the terrain.
The bees themselves travel in small groups of two to eight, following this magic runway on their strange pilgrimage. These small groups are responsible for each other’s safety, relying on each other for navigation, defence, and even sharing sustenance mid-flight by storing spare nectar. They leave and return together, and it is through this storage procedure they carry their prized bounty: Hapacian orchid nectar.
Once a year, however, at approximately the same time each autumn, tourists flock to the town to witness a grand apian spectacle. All of the bees capable of making the journey make their preparations and suddenly depart en masse, an event which has come to mark the beginning of Hapacian harvest.
Many do not make the return journey. Scientists think this bizarre behaviour might be a natural population control to remove the weak, old and sick, thus ensuring that only the worthy survive to continue the species.
The chemical responsible for such overwhelming sweetness is known as hapacin, a substance hundreds of thousands of times sweeter than sugar. But theories abound as to how this compound came to be in the honey. It is not naturally occurring, but chemists are wondering about a possible metabolic pathway involving the combination of a precursor chemical in the nectar of the Hapace valley orchids and a special secretion produced by the bees on their long journey.
Scientists have tried to grow these orchids outside of the valley, but every attempt has failed to reproduce the same results. The rare combination of soil, rainfall, sunlight, and any number of conditions present in the valley must all be present to sustain this unusual flower. When picked or uprooted, it lasts a mere eight hours before it starts to decay. Courtships in the city often begin with the presentation of such flowers; a custom believed to originate over two thousand years ago, it was even more impressive then, as young men eager to prove their worth had to run back several miles to ensure their date could enjoy the gift for the rest of the evening.
Regardless of its chemical contents, this delicate infusion of love, toil, symbiosis and serendipity can be found nowhere else on Earth.