Following some great feedback from my writing group, I’m trying to modify my style for these stories a little. I’ll revisit the others soon, but first here’s my latest offering.
I also wrote this by hand – not a technique I use often unless I need to write and don’t have access to something electronic. I find ideas tend to come too quickly to capture by hand, and I can type at about twice the rate I can hand write.
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I remember clearly, the day when I first ate Gaefas. Despite living in Schotia for five years, I had somehow fallen through the cracks and found myself missing out on this popular specialty. It’s not that I didn’t know the right people to be invited to a Galla, its just that they always happened when I was visiting my family at home as it clashed with Arfest.
But eventually, one year my parents decided they themselves would be away travelling for Arfest, which gave me the perfect opportunity to accept an invitation to Galla.
Only those with houses large enough to accommodate more than thirty people tended to hold Galla parties, and though I knew of no such people who fit that bill (and indeed, could foot that bill), I was lucky enough to be friends with someone who was pretty close to a special advisor to the Schia.
The house itself was large enough to sleep thirty, and its five entertaining rooms – spanning three floors – offered enough space to relax even when the house was full of people.
But the dining room, despite the attractions: dancers, music, comics, clowns; for me, the dining room carried the greatest allure. For one, it was as large as the Great Halls from my own city, where fancy lawyers came to dine and talk of the world”s ills while getting drunk and making lifelong friends.
Even more wondrous than that, however, the Gaefas had me in a state of uncomfortable anticipation. This room was where the dish would be served. The dish that I had heard so much about that it had become somewhat of a mythical event in my mind.
I wasn’t the only one who had made a beeline to the dining hall. A small number of Schotian nationals and a couple of people I recognised as fellow expats from my own country – probably just as enthralled as I was – had also strayed in here, eager to receive the miraculous food and the atmosphere that came with it. This was the main event for us – the rest was all just decoration.
We did not have to wait very long. A distant bell sounded, encouraging the majority of the guests into the hall with us. The air they brought with them was lightly perfumed; of rose, of musk, of citrus and high spirits.
It did not last long like this.
Gaefas has such a uniquely meaty, pungent aroma. It is fabled that at the height of the Great Winter, the first Queen of Schotia fed five hundred and fifty-five people too poor to feed themselves. Not only had she sated their hunger, but they were never hungry again. Historians have different understandings of what this actually means; some say they literally stopped feeling hungry and were able to sustain themselves somehow, incredibly, indefinitely. Other, more grounded minds believe it marks a time in history when their fortunes changed, along with the country as a whole. Indeed, history marks the decades that followed as a period of great industry, trade, and prosperity. Despite their logic, there is a small part of me that longs for the legend to be true. Would such a tradition have survived if others didn’t feel the same?
Finally, we sit. Our mouths salivate as the smells permeated the room. About a minute later, the serving doors opened, and a stream of servants carried out plates containing individual portions of the magical dish.
Mine appears in front of me and all of us, full of awe and eagerness to begin, pause a moment to give thanks to the first Queen of Schotia.
We eat of the meal – composed primarily of the root and bark of the Morning Tree, which has its own legends as you might guess. It is only delicately spiced, but by no means bland. The tree itself is very bitter before cooked, and too hard to eat. It must be cooked gently for four days and never allowed to dry out. My first attempt at home of making it failed miserably, but I am told that such trials often end unsuccessfully unless you have a staff willing to curate the meal. Indeed, Gaefas means ‘to overcome’ in the language; a sentiment that runs through the meal and its story.
The cooked root and bark is then pulped and mixed with oats, a spice made from a dried sour berry, and served with green leafy vegetables – I note the purists often leave the accompaniments, believing the magic lies in the tree. Others feel that leaving any part of the dish is bad luck. Personally, I would never leave a plate half-finished, out of courtesy for my host.
The main event over, people begin to mingle between tables, return to the entertaining rooms, or leave. I stayed for a while to talk with the guests at my table, but I am glad to report that we departed well-satisfied. And whether or not it was the Gaefas, I must confess that I have not felt hungry since.