Spice of life
What is life without laughter? What is life without pleasure?
One bleak desert
Where nothing ever grows.
But do not let your pleasure
Give madness free reins
Jalisa stood with straddling legs and stirred the pot of stew with her usual calm and zeal; she only hoped that she got this pot of stew cooked on time because she knew how much stew which was consumed on a night there at the circus. A few help girls were struggling with other pots but she never left the main course to anyone other than herself, she thought that no one else could give the food the little extra that made her food the best cuisine in town. A few of the servants brought in more firewood and one of them watched the fire so it would not burn out.
The kitchen was a very hot place but Jalisa kept discipline and so no one tried to evade kitchen service. She wiped the sweat from her forehead discreetly under the bonnet and had to use some power to be sure that everything was stirred properly. She smiled satisfied, the smell of the stew was perfect and she knew that everyone would like it, as they always did. Good food was an art as complex and necessary as a weapons masters and the way the apprentices were pushed around by the masters they really needed solid meals.
One of the girls did help carrying the large basket of spice bottles and Jalisa carefully picked out the ones she needed. To spice up the food perfectly was her pride and joy, a trait she had learned through nearly forty years in the kitchen. No one should ever say that Jalisa made food that was anything less than perfect! She knew very well how important she was to the circus, without her everything would just fall apart. Even Whaly, their leader, was not as indispensable as Jalisa.
The stew was perfect and she left the last and not so important part of the job to one of the servants, now it was time to check that everything she needed for next day’s dinner was in place. In a large household like this one could not fall behind with anything, one had to be alert all the time and make sure everything was in place and ready and she boasted that she always managed to keep track of everything. In the pantry everything was as commonly spotlessly clean and tidy and she looked around with a happy face, no one doubted that it was Jalisa’s kitchen, and no one else’s.
She was about to walk out when she got aware that one of the jars were placed into a separate room at the end of the shelf, it meant that it would soon be empty and had to be filled. She stopped, checked the name that was written on the jar and mumbled a low curse to herself. The spice was one they used a lot of; if they ran out there would be a crisis. She had to go to the spice trader in the morning since she never left such important jobs to the servants. They would accept almost anything, even spice of inferior quality!
She noted that in her mind and spent the rest of the evening making sure the food was ready to be served and coordinating the serving girls who often nearly collided with each other in their eagerness and hurry. She really enjoyed herself with the job but the kitchen was often chaotic and this night was really tough for two servants had a night off and one of the kitchen girls was sick so everyone had to run like scared rabbits to get everything done.
The result was a few mishaps here and there and when Jalisa bent down to brush up the shards from a broken mug the dishwasher managed to stumble in the mop and spill an entire bowl of freezing water over her. She was soaked and the rest of the night was pretty rough since a wet and annoyed Jalisa could be tough to deal with and not at least to be in the room with. She took a bath and drank a good sharp grog before going to bed but she was seriously afraid of getting a cold, for her the very idea was terrible for her keen sense of smell was what she lived off!
The next morning she quite rightly had gotten a cold and it was no minor one either. It started with some mild sneezing during the preparations for breakfast but quickly escalated to real explosions that got several of the servants to gape startled. They had not believed that the usually so dignified Jalisa could make such loud sounds. She cursed inside and sweated and tried as best as she could to do her job but after lunch her nose began running and her head felt like a lump of lead so she left the kitchen to her deputy and went out to shop.
Certainly she had no sense of smell left but she had experience and she knew this spice trader well and he knew he could not fool Jalisa. Moreover, it was very unlikely that he would try either because this was a guy who was proud of his profession and skills.
She got on her best gown, took some money and a basket and hurried out into the streets even though she felt quite miserable. Jalisa had always had a good work ethic. She boasted that she had not been sick a day in her working career and she did not intend to put herself to bed only because of a mere cold, no it required much more than that to get her on her knees. The air was fresh and sharp and she hurried through the teeming streets, she knew the way very well and she could not be distracted by various zealous street vendors and other troublesome existences as there were quite a few of them there. She had a mission and as an arrow moving towards a target she ran straight towards her goal.
The spices dealer lived in a narrow dark alley, and he was not widely known but it was due simply to the fact that he was an artist in his profession and considered selling to the right people as more important than making big money. Jalisa was one of his best customers, and she then also expected to be served with skill and zeal. She stepped into the narrow front door with a faded and rather anonymous signs over and stood a little puzzled. Behind the counter stood not spice trader himself but one of the apprentices, a skinny little guy with a startled look and ragged clothes. She looked at the boy who winced visibly before her authority. “Is your master not present?”
The boy swallowed a bit franticly, it was clear that standing behind the counter was not his preferred task and that they hadn’t expected customers that day. “No honorable lady, he .... He is sick honored; it’s his stomach so he lies in bed!”
Jalisa rolled her eyes, everything went wrong this day. She knew this man hardly lay down and called in sick unless it was serious so he was unlikely to recover soon. “Are you the only one here now son?”
The boy nodded briefly and scared and looked like he wanted to hide behind the counter, Jalisa was a hard lady but she actually felt a bit sorry for him there and then. It had to be scary for him to be set to run the store when one thought of how strict the master was. “Listen, I should have re filled my storage of Bhatarian herbs, you know where he keeps it?”
The boy thought for a moment, and then he brightened up “Oh yes respected lady, we got new supplies a couple of days ago, and the jars are still in the warehouse. I think I know which jar that’s the right spice but they are poorly marked, how does it look?”
Jalisa sighed with relief; the boy was at least obligingly enough if not completely trained.
“It is blue-gray in color if it is good, and a little rough in texture. Besides, it smells mildly sweet with a kind of cinnamon-like overtone.”
The boy nodded quickly and disappeared into the warehouse with the speed of a confused rabbit, it was clear that the prospect of doing something right was encouraging.
Jalisa used the opportunity to pick up some small bags from self-service shelves while she was at the warehouse, it paid off to always have some in reserve. The boy came back with a large jug, it had been very well sealed she saw and it pleased her. This spice lost a lot of power if air came in during storage or even worse, water! Jalisa again cursed the fact that her nose was clogged but she looked closely at the spice and it looked completely normal. She got a bag of nearly three pounds before she was satisfied and paid before she praised the boy for the service. He blushed from head to foot as she walked out the door.
Back at the circus she filled up the container in the kitchen immediately and was relieved and happy that the mission was carried out, now she could rest a bit before it was time for dinner. She lay down for a short nap and her lights went out as they often does when one is sicker than one self will admit. When dinner time approached the deputy checked in on her and found out that Jalisa should get some more sleep. She needed it as hard as she did push herself and with a cold she could be contagious?
The dinner was therefore prepared without Jalisa being present and giving orders and the food was cooked the way she used to make it. Presumably, no one out there would as much as suspect that it wasn’t the kitchen mistress herself who had arranged everything
Out in the dining room it was as usual filled up with people, all the gladiators had come there since there had been a show that day and everyone was hungry as wolves. Apprentices and masters were also there and each and every table was occupied. Serving girls ran around almost in a panic with beer mugs and bowls of the fragrant stew and all ate as usual while the mood was high. No one knew that the situation would soon change and that in dramatic ways!
Akisha and Raigh sat in a corner with the other chosen ones; they had trained that day while Hawk and Elywen had been with the show. Frostbird and Khir was just slipping by for they used to stay in the forests around the city when there wasn’t something special going on and they discussed the results of the previous hunting trip. Rheynek sat there with Enez on his lap and enjoyed himself with his beer mug and Rhylja had enough explaining to Thoran how to make a somersault backwards, it was clear that he wanted to learn it for the next show but he had problems with it.
Generally all were talking and enjoying themselves and Akisha felt safe and happy. They had not had any missions for a while and she was really happy about it. It felt so good to be there and be safe with those she cared about. Raigh entertained them with a little daring story from his past as a mercenary when they became aware that the mood in the room had changed. It had been good but now became gradually more and more profusely jolly, many had begun to sing drinking songs and a couple had jumped up on the table and was dancing.
Raigh frowned. “This is strange, is the beer that strong?”
He sniffed at his mug and shook his head. It was as usual.
Elywen hoisted on her shoulders. “There has been some hard days now, they are probably just letting the stress out I think.”
Akisha could understand it, they continued to eat and talk for a bit and she noticed that she felt unusually good, it was as if all the hard and heavy thoughts was lifted from her mind and even the most embarrassing joke was suddenly incredibly funny. Had she really been drinking that much beer?
Frostbird and Khir had gone and she staggered as she got up to look around, there was really a lot of loud noises there now and it seemed that everyone had lost their minds? Not even the worst drunken parties at Dern’s tavern degenerated like this.
In the middle of the floor stood Wilbwyn and swung the ax while threatening something only he saw as he staggered and shouted the worst insults she had ever heard from that man . She did not understand anything, Raigh got up too and he had strangely shining eyes. “Come my beautiful, I want to try something!”
Akisha tried to protest but she could not find a reason why she should and moreover everything seemed so incredibly funny and she could not see the seriousness of anything. She followed him and he literally ran to the entrance to the bathroom.
She did not understand what he was doing there but she went inside too and inside of the door he threw off his clothes and dove naked into the pool. Akisha giggled wildly, she felt so wonderful and wanton and irresponsible so she did the same and he grabbed her almost as soon as she had gone into the water and lifted her up onto the pool edge. She knew Naragh would be furious if he took anyone at it in such a situation in his bathroom but she didn’t care of the consequences then and there. Raigh had a strange glow in his eyes and she felt just so incredibly rude and eager.
The hall had become a complete mess, mugs and plates whizzed through the air like a hailstorm and many stood and screamed and yelled or talked to themselves. Others danced or tried to fight while a couple of maids got tumbled atop the table’s right in front of everyone. Jirhg had taken over the kitchen and ran and threw everything he found in various pots while he giggled and screamed hysterically with wild eyes. Most of the serving staff who wasn’t affected had left long ago in a panic.
In the stables the stable hands had gone for the evening but Dheg had barricaded himself in a box with a sword and a sack of carrots as he tried to defend the cook’s moth-eaten old donkey against something only he saw. It was clear that he thought that the donkey was his former pride and joy Khalay, the great white stallion Whaly had owned.
Whaly herself stood in the arena wearing a pretty weird assembled costume, presumably she wanted to portray one of the mythical ancient heroines for she wore something that would resemble a chain mail and she had found a pitchfork she held as a spear and the lid of a garbage bin was obviously a shield. Now she stood and yelled and sang something only she understood and to assert that the circus manager had a beautiful voice were equally weird as to argue that a wildebeest is more beautiful than an oriental horse.
Ali ran around in the arena also, it was clear that he thought that he was a bull because he mooed and head butted at all that was loose around him.
In Naragh’s private chamber the otherwise worthy and wise old sage stood and cooked together a terrible lubricant of various ointments and herbs while he loudly explained to an audience that was not there that he had found the recipe for the fountain of eternal youth. Enez had run out and tried to climb up on the facade of the circus building while she apparently fought something which tried to stab her and Rheynek had run to the library where he tore the books off the shelves in a desperate hunt for something that would give the final answer. He just did not know what it was going to answer to but it made no difference cause the answer he was going to have no matter what.
Elda and Arnulf lay on a bench in the corridor to the dining room and laughed until they screamed, but none of them were able to stop and they no longer knew what they were laughing at. Thoran and Rhylja were playing horse with Rhylja as a fiery steed and Thoran as a proud rider and many of the gladiators were wrestling each other, or trying to build a fort of tables and benches. Others performed parts of old plays they had played in and many managed their best performances before packed grandstands or so it seemed.
In the bathroom and Akisha and Raigh made love like wild animals at the peak of the breeding season and many would have been shocked to see the usually cool and calm lord of the weapons masters scream at her mate to ask him to take her harder. It seemed that everyone who had been in the dining room was gripped by a strange madness and it just got worse and worse. The racket began to attract attention from the outside and from those who had not had the opportunity to eat dinner right then and all stared in disbelief at the chaos that was going on.
Elywen and Hawk was not affected and they sat frightened and confused in a corner and stared at the chaos. Hawk had Elywen hidden behind him for he was not assured that no one would resort to violence, but he did not understand what happened at all. He feared magic and it was something he did not understand. Elywen was first of the same opinion but she felt no magic there, she sent a mental distress call to Frostbird and hoped that the silver-haired elf would get in there quickly. This was pure and simple madness
Hawk did not bring any weapons with him but he did not need any to be dangerous. The problem was just that there were no enemies there; they were all friends he would prefer not to hurt. Wilbwyn roared like a raging bull and took on an overturned table so the wood chips flew and a couple of the trainers had begun to demolish the fireplace with their bare hands. Blood flowed out of their hands but they did not seem to sense it. From the kitchen came a smoke now that smelled worse than a garbage dump in the heat of summer and a screaming serving girl was being chased around by an apprentice with his pants around his knees, his life’s worst boner and an insane grin on his mouth.
Frostbird came rushing in, she stopped short with her chin down on her chest when she saw what happened and Khir almost collided with her. He cursed in utter astonishment at the sight. The crazy apprentice threw himself over Frostbird and apparently tried to take her through her clothes and everything but she placed a well-aimed blow at the chin of the guy so he went to the floor with a crash and remained down. She rubbed her hand afterwards a bit frightened and ran away to Hawk and Elywen. “By the goddess, what happens?”
Hawk shook his head. “The Gods alone knows!”
Elywen whimpering frightened. «I sense no magic here, what else can make them all mad?”
Frost bird looked around, she noticed no magic either and she was the one of them who was most sensitive to such things.
She bit her lower lip. “None of us are affected whatever it is and it makes me believe that it is far from magical.”
Khir looked questioningly at her. “Yes dear, none of us elves have gone crazy, and we react differently to many things than other people.”
Hawk flicked his hands. “Drugs! They can make people lose their minds completely! But how? ....”
Frostbird tried to think. “It’s hardly the beer, then we would have felt it in the flavor, and it can probably not have been done intentionally either. We have no enemies any longer and nobody has access to the kitchen. It must be an accident but what kind of drugs are we talking about and how long is the effect going to last?”
Hawk cursed dryly. “What I’m worried about is what’s needed to stop people before they hurt themselves and others, just look, many are already wounded.”
Khir nodded. “Well, the first thing we do is to secure the armory so no one can be going into it, and I guess we’ll have to knock the worst out cold!”
Hawk looked perplexed at him. “Is there no other way?”
Khir shook his head. “Do you have a better suggestion maybe?”
Elywen pulled along Frostbird out to the kitchen, there the smell was terrible now and smoke hung densely over the entire room as they with joint effort pulled open all the dampers they could find. Jirhg ran around and threw everything from cutlery to washing lye in pots and Frostbird sighed and used her magic on him so he tumbled over and lay as frozen on the floor.
There was nothing left of the kitchen staff there so they were left to scratch their heads, spice jars and bottles were thoroughly mixed and emptied and it was impossible to find anything there that should not be there normally.
Elywen looked abruptly around. “Did you see Jalisa Frostbird?”
The small elf shook her head. “No? I did not see her at dinner, no?”
Elywen cursed and ran. Jalisa had her private chambers not far from the kitchen but it was a lot of thick brick walls in between and inside of her room it would be impossible to hear anything.
They burst through the door and found a sleeping cook who snored royally and seemed to be far away in dreamland so they shook her vigorously and she bursts into life with a startled gasp. To wake up and stare straight into Frostbird’s strange blue-green cat-like eyes was frightening even for someone who knew her. “What .... Have I overslept? Oh gods, dinner!”
Elywen pushed the elderly woman back on the bed. “Take it easy Jalisa, dinner is served long ago but, well, something has gone wrong”
Jalisa frowned. “What? Has the incompetent girl managed to burn the roast again?”
Frostbird had to fake a smile. “If only it had been something that mundane, but no, I think you have to see it to believe it!”
Jalisa got on her clothes and joined them and she clapped her hands to her cheeks and screamed when she saw the condition her beloved kitchen was in. She screamed again when she saw the state of the dining room and what was happening now.
Frostbird shook her to get her to concentrate. “Jalisa, do you keep medicine or any kind of drugs here in the kitchen which could have ended up in the food by mistake?”
Jalisa was offended, scoffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Of course not, it’s just Naragh who keeps such in this house!”
It was evident that she found the idea outrageous but Frostbird had to pursue the idea a bit further. “You have not bought anything new in the past, something that has not been tried out, whatever it is that has made everyone crazy; it must have been in the food!”
Jalisa twitched, she suddenly looked scared
“I bought a new herbal spice today but it was as it should, the spice trader is very reputable and is never wrong.”
Frostbird gritted her teeth; her face was suddenly very strict. “Show us where you keep it now!”
Jalisa found the container with herbal spice from the chaos since it was blue and marked with huge letters and even though most of it had been spilled it was apparent that some of it had been used that day. Frostbird sniffed suspiciously. “What should this smell like?”
Jalisa explained carefully and with a dripping nose and Frostbird handed Elywen the container with a tired sigh. “Smell this sister; tell me if you think this smells right?”
Elywen put her nose gently up to it and shook her head in amazement. “This smells nearly as, well, tar?”
Jalisa looked astonished at them. “It is wrong; it should not smell of tar?”
Frostbird gritted her teeth. “Okay, where does the spice trader live and where is the nearest drug-store?”
Jalisa was wringing her hands. “He lives in the buck street five and the drug-store is in the Temple street number seven but they are not open now?”
Frostbird bared her teeth.” Oh, soon they will be!”
She tore Elywen with her out the door for now it was really urgent.
Khir and Hawk had locked the armory and the main entrance and some other doors, now they ran around and tried to keep track of the people and the situation. They had knocked down some of those who were of the worst affected and could pose a danger to themselves and others and they had even brought down Wilbwyn. They looked at Whaly’s aria performance and also that Raigh and Akisha enjoyed intimate acrobatics but they were alone, they were in no danger. Naragh they found too and they got a couple of stable guys who had returned to watch him. Dheg had fallen asleep where he sat and did sleep it off while the others remained equally excited.
In the dining room it looked as if there had been a battle fought of the very violent kind, and the two felt pretty confused still. Some began to get out of the rapture for it was quite a few of those who just a little while ago had been hysterically happy that now sat crying like babies. It was in the whole quite daunting. Hawk just hoped that Elywen and Frostbird found out the reason behind this for it went over his poor understanding.
The two raced as fast as they managed to the spice trader and the whole house was awakened by a very effective hammering at the door with a tin bucket they found outside.
First the wife of the spice trader was furious that the whole house was awakened in such a manner but when the elves had explained the situation she was pale as a sheet and hid her face in pure shame and despair. She woke the apprentice who almost fainted when he saw the two and got to know what happened and he soon found the jar he had given Jalisa from.
It was marked, and it looked right as it should so they could understand that he had been wrong. Frostbird had to affirm that the spice trader wouldn’t be in problems as a result of this, it was clear that the house was afraid of reprisals or claims. They could not be blamed because one of the manufacturers had mislabeled his jars.
Frostbird took a good portion of it and then they went to the drug-store. There, they had to struggle a lot more to get the attention of the owner since he stayed not in the building itself but in the house next door and way up at the third floor but Frostbird threw stones at the windows until the residents responded. The man responsible for the drug-store was first reluctant to do anything so long after closing time but Frostbird made it no secret that the circus masters was in close contact with certain people in power who if necessary could make life quite difficult for those opposing them. When the problem was explained the man got a little eager anyway because it was clear that a challenge was something he liked and he appreciated that his knowledge and skills were put to use.
Frostbird gave him what she had taken, and he studied the contents of the bag long and hard before he sniffed carefully at all of it to feel the smell. He frowned and since he was a man with many years behind him he had an almost completely blank skull and Frostbird thought for a moment that he looked a bit like a little raisin. It was irreverent and she barely managed to stay silent.
He took up some of the substance on a spoon and put it on a blank board, spread it out and smelled carefully. He took some corns of it on his finger and tasted it and then he took out an ancient book full of doodles and browsed through it for a long time. Elywen began to be thoroughly impatient but she knew this was not something one could be too hasty with. It was important to be thorough.
The old man closed the book with a bang and Frostbird had to sneeze since a lot of dust flew in the air from it. Wiping dust was obviously a low priority activity in that house. He looked at them with a strange expression in his eyes. “I have no idea who the spice trader trades with but this is certainly not a spice. If I’m not mistaken, it is rather valuable stuff and very rare too. It is clear that some jars must have been interchanged on the transport ship or at the manufacturer”
Elywen frowned. «What is it then?”
The old man had to pull a little smile. “There are a few medical doctors in the East who use it against depression, they actually call it the spice of life but it is not meant to be in the food. Then it becomes too strong and can make people more or less insane for a few hours. It is made of a pair of secret herbs and a special fruit that ripens only once every ten years.”
Elywen threw a strange glance at him. “But it is not dangerous?”
The man shook his head. “No, not unless one damages oneself in the rapture, no, it is possible to take too much of it and get sick and maybe die but then they need to mix it with oil and inject it directly into a vein, when one takes it through the mouth one has to eat several pounds before it in itself is dangerous. It is said that the rapture is the problem.”
Frostbird broke into the conversation. “So all those who have gone crazy will be ok again?”
He nodded. “Yes, after a few hours but since they got it in the food it will cause them to become depressed and sentimental and they will also be sick to the stomach and probably be vomiting rather much too. Unfortunately, it is inevitable for it is strong for the stomach.”
Elywen looked wide-eyed at Frostbird. “Oh great goddess! We must return at once, this could get ugly and we must warn the others!”
The man quickly got his thanks for the help, and then they ran!
At the circus the situation had changed rather quickly, from savagery through whining to chaos again but now it was another chaos that applied and Hawk and Khir could only stand there and stare incredulously. People whined and cried like kids and the toilet behind the dining room was over crowded, people had taken pots and kettles to help themselves with and it literally stank to high heavens. Many vomited and emptied themselves at both ends simultaneously and many were really sick. And at the same time they were crying and complained that the world was a terrible place, and everything else under the sun that they could complain about. The two elven warriors had no idea what to do.
In the bathroom Akisha and Raigh had finally collapsed from sheer exhaustion, now the brave master of the weapons masters and her mate sat on a bucket each and held another bucket up in front of them and tried to their best to fill them both it appeared. In the library Rheynek had uprooted a palm out of a jar and stood and cried out for elk and deer from the top of his lungs and on the roof Enez had found a gutter and did her best to fill it.
The kitchen did not look good even in moonlight, and it got no better from the fact that everybody was running around looking for something to empty their bowels into.
Dheg puked into one of the irrigation tanks for the horses and Naragh had forgotten all dignity and sat there with his robes up under his armpits while he evacuated his system under high pressure. It was a very smelly place Frostbird and Elywen came back too and although the news that it was not harmful was received with gratitude there were many who were not so happy.
Whaly smelled bad and looked even worse and Ali could barely stand. Wilbwyn had woken up but he felt worse than ever before in his hard life and Rhylja swore that she would never touch neither spices nor beer any more.
When it became clear that no one was in danger anymore things were organized and arranged for the rest of the evening. All the sick were placed in the infirmary with buckets and many were rather crestfallen when they heard what they had done. Enez had to be helped down from the ceiling and Rheynek had made a mess of the whole library. Raigh and Akisha had an all-time hang over and Akisha was pale as a corpse when she found out what they had done and that Hawk and Khir had seen them. Hawk claimed that he had never seen such an interesting use of benches and walls ever.
It took five days to clean up and wash away the filth and for many this was something they simply did not want to talk about. Whaly ensured that what was left of the powder was taken care of for it could be that it could come in handy later but the whole incident was one of those people did not mention if one did not have to. There were many who had made a fool of themselves thoroughly and usually something like this would be discussed for months and the unfortunate culprit be thoroughly bullied but in this case all had done the same stupid things so one only created trouble for oneself by mentioning it.
Rheynek spent over a week putting all the books back in the shelves again and he swore that he really had found the answer to everything and that it was a number but he could not for anything in the world remember what it was. Elywen and Frostbird and the other elves had been unaffected and could perhaps be amused by it but it had been such a terrifying experience that in many ways they would not talk about it. Instead, it was quietly remembered as the one time when it was a little too much delight and joy in their everyday life and the next parties at Dern’s were very boring compared with normal. Most had had enough of full out partying for a few weeks.
And to Jalisa the whole incident was nothing less than a nightmare, she had wept bitter tears over how her beloved kitchen looked and complained and whined so bad that Whaly eventually commanded her on a holiday until everything was back to normal.
When the kitchen’s mistress returned with new zeal and fervor and even free of the cold all was right and properly in place but she did of course not refrain from rearranging everything at least three times before she was satisfied. The food came back to normal level but one thing was sure, hereinafter Jalisa would herself taste all the hot spices before anything was being served to anyone. She would not risk another overdose of the spice of life in her beloved kitchen.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, NuredhelWrite a Review