by Hector of the Black Height
Not so far from here, as the dragon flies, is Dragon'sLair, the seat of the Kings and Queens of the Middle, and not so long ago the King of the Middle decided he would have a feast to delight and astound his brother Kings. Accordingly a stream of heralds and their entourages set forth from the great keep of Dragon'sLair, bearing invitations to the Monarchs of the Known World.
Weeks passed and the King and his Queen spent many happy hours planning the details of the feast. As the replies came in, one by one, the happy hours turned to disappointment and then dread. You see, each King who received an invitation accepted and, with his acceptance, forwarded a description of the rare delicacy he would bring as a contribution to the dinner. Each day the King read the recipes forwarded from far lands. The Ansteorran monarch was convinced (and his Midrealm cousin feared no contradiction was possible) that the cattle he would have driven to Dragon'sLair would be the largest cattle in the Known World, even in spite of the drive. The King of the West promised the rarest of his land's rare vintages to grace the table, shining forth from silver-chased goblets. The Kings of Atlantia and Trimaris, from the proud words they sent to the Midrealm King, would strive to outdo the other with the fruits of their seas.
The Middle's King knew his lands had no outland seas at his beck and call like the coastal monarchs, no wide western vineyards, no exotic lands teeming with rare game. The King and his Queen had grave doubts about the wisdom of their original plan; there is little but ridicule facing a King who is shamed by his guests within his own hall and at his own table. Still, the invitations had been sent out and the Royalty of the Known World, even as the keepers of Dragon'sLair doubted their doubts, were travelling towards the lofty keep of the Midrealm Kings.
Finally the great day came and, amidst great ceremony (each herald present would tell you that his or her court has held more splendid banquets, but such is the way of heralds), the Kings of the Twelve Kingdoms and their Queens sat for a great feast. Each King and Queen beamed with pride as their land's speciality made its way to table. Great warriors did their Monarchs honour and served on bent knee; withdrawn from sheaths of gilt breads were broiled swordfish from Trimaris, done to a turn. Fragrant lobster from Atlantia were devoured with gusto, as were plates of game-birds, taken by the fearsome falcons resting on the shoulders of the King's Guards of Calontir. There are no words in this tongue to describe the strange delights that the Outlands offered. Each course was more splendid than the one that had gone before, the flavours progressively more sumptuous, until the monarchs slumped back in their thrones, filled beyond their belief.
"Superb!" roared the King of the East. "Never have I tasted the foods of all these native lands so well prepared. Even the sausage of our far hills of Drachenwald was fit for a King this day!" Each King agreed, for the glory of the whole meal outweighed the petty politics of national delights. And yet there was something amiss.
The King of An Tir was first to notice. "Most Royal Brothers and Sisters," he said, "I have never before succumbed so completely to gluttony. I, who fear nothing, would not dare to even gaze on another morsel, lest my ribs crack and my guts burst my skin! Still, I did keep a careful tally of the wonders that passed from those teeming trenchers to this bursting Royal belly. There were but eleven removes; whose Kingdom has not been represented?" There was loud, nay, over-stuffed argument for several minutes as fingers (and, to be honest, a few toes) were counted against each remove in the feast. Each King recalled his land's speciality and reminded the assembly of his land's contribution. Finally all had spoken save one, and the company turned to look at the Midrealm's happy King.
"Most Royal brother," inquired the King of Caid, "what is your share in this feast, save the boards we faced and the thrones whose legs we strain through over-eating? I know we did bring with us from our own lands the rarities we did so rapidly consume, and never before have they had such succulent taste. Yet I did provide both foodstuffs and expert chefs to do justice to the cuisine of my native land. Where is your addition?"
Each King agreed that his land's foods had never been so well prepared, yet far-travelled chefs had accompanied each Royal progress to the storied keep of Cariadoc. What had the Middle brought to share at the table?
The King of the Middle rose to his feet (an act of great distinction in itself, all present would later agree) and addressed his guests. "Brothers and Sisters all, these Middle lands have offered neither foods nor cooks to rival your own grand gifts. Rather we have provided the rarest and most prized contribution to the repast. Each dish that graced these boards, for however short a time we let it lie, has never been cooked better. Never before has each had such flavour, despite the cook or the spice or the meats and fruits you carried so far. My contribution has been simple." And at the wave of the King's hand the fires in the keep burned blazing white without and roaring scarlet within. "Never before and never again shall you have such a meal," said the King, "for this day your feast was founded in the Dragon's fire. Remember such tastes well, for never again shall you sample such delights." At those words the fires snuffed themselves out and, from the depths of the keep, came a rustling of great wings spreading to fly free again.
The Kings and Queens there assembled agreed that their lands and their delicacies were indeed well served, but nothing could surpass the delights rendered by the merest touch of the Dragon's fire to that which rendered sustenance to the Monarchs of the Known World. They agreed the Midrealm's King had shared with them the greatest and rarest taste of all, the special spice imparted upon all things by the fire of the Dragon, and while they celebrated, each King and Queen could not help but envy the Monarchs of the Midrealm, who ever had the Dragon's fire at their command.
This story first was published in By Royal Command: A Book of Songs, Poetry and Stories from Ealdormere. It's an old story now (note the references to the Twelve Kingdoms and the Eastern Principality of Drachenwald) but I think it still works.
Copyright A. McLean 1995, 1998. All rights reserved.
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