Telling Tales 77
“Pungent” was the word that best described the smell that laid on top of all of the others. “Sharp.” It was a spice none of them knew, suggesting… not a tang, said one man, no, said another, a bite. “But not badly so. Welcoming? Rich. Definitely rich.” “Sweet,” someone else said, and a child said that it made her think of a fire in a hearth. The dark man had run away at the suggestion of the fae snake and the direction of the old man, the servant, who’d pointed in a specific direction, and as fast as the dark man ran, he was still gone for a very long time.
“I believe it’s ready,” said the fae group’s leader.
“Indeed, monsieur,” said the old servant, and raised a spoonful for the young man to taste.
“It’s different,” said the young man. “But good. What’s it called again?”
“Cinnamon,” said the fae snake. Everyone in Chalm thought he ought to hiss his s-sounds, but he never did.
The group huddled around the the giant cauldrons, even the indisputably Russian princes, who were, by grace of the fact that they were identifiably Russian and princes, the most trustworthy of the entire hideous lot. What followed were sounds of surprise and delight as they stirred the cauldrons with long spoons and dined on the food.
“You there!” demanded the mayor finally at the prodding of his brother, who was larger and correspondingly hungrier than most.
“Did someone say something?” asked the young man of his crew.
“Indeed, monsieur,” said the old servant.
SLURP went the company. “Well done, Kou Ke,” someone said. “That spice really hits the spot.”
“You there!” The mayor edged closer. The aroma of the food wiggled around his nose and nestled firmly into his mustache. He almost fainted with delight and despair. “What do you think you’re doing in our town?”
“Making soup,” answered the young man. “You’re welcome to have some.”
The mayor said something else, but what it was no one ever heard because the entire town, as though waiting for those words, pressed out of their houses and into the square, just over two hundred of them. Wives and husbands, children, grandparents, those single by choice or by accident, everyone stepped farther in. Finally the mayor was able to make his voice heard.
“You’re not natural, you aren’t,” he began and pointed a wavering finger at the fae snake. “You’re here to trap us, lure us into your realm.”
“My realm is my father’s realm,” said Ivan, “Tsar Pyotr beyond the mountains.”
“My father is Tsar Pyotr beyond the giant,” said Vasilisa. Arkady and Aleksey made note of their fathers, Tsars Pyotr both, and their respective lands.
The stomachs of the town of Chalm grumbled in unison. “Those are some pedigrees,” muttered one voice. “Good enough for me,” said another. The mayor wanted to know about the rest of the company, but the townspeople were having none of it. Four members of royalty and six whatever-they-weres?
“There’s enough for everyone,” said the one called Ivan, the young leader of the group. “But we have two conditions.”
“I knew it!” swore the mayor.
“Everyone must be here. You all share, or none of you share. Second, you must use the spoons we provide.”
“Fine,” said the mayor’s brother as he pushed past. He grabbed a spoon from one of the enchanted guards, a stout wooden thing nearly three feet long, and lunged forward, and at his motion the rest of the people surged forward as well in a single-minded mob.