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The Life and Times of Mag the Cook   by annmarwalk

Stag and Star

“Mag, Mag!” I looked up, smiling, at the sound of Prince Imrahil’s voice. Dashing and good-natured, the young prince was a frequent and welcome visitor to our kitchen. “I want to show you something, privately.” He took my arm, and I could feel him quivering with barely-suppressed excitement as he led me off to the quiet corner where I kept my accounts.

“Smell this.” He passed me a small, scratchy bag, slightly open at the top; I held it to my nose, inhaling deeply. A strong, bitter scent, redolent of earth and smoke; almost overpowering, but strangely intoxicating.

“It’s called gahwa,” he whispered. “It comes as small, greenish beans. Roast them, grind them, then brew them like tea. Add spices if you like, cinnamon or mace; drink it by itself, or with cream, or honey.” He leaned closer. “Mark my words, one day it will be more popular than ale, beer, or wine. They say the drink incites passion, banishes weariness, and sharpens the mind. I know of a trader, who knows of a farmer, who is willing to sell us his whole harvest each season. If there were something like a tavern, serving gahwa rather than ale, we could….”

I nodded, easily catching his drift. Our prince had a shrewd mind and a restless energy that had not yet found its proper outlet. He had steered me toward some profitable ventures before; thanks to his guidance, I had a tidy sum of money tucked away.

“How much?” I asked.

He murmured a figure, less than I had imagined; he must be planning to invest a nice bit himself. A good sign. His name would nowhere be associated with the tavern, but his visits there would be noted, and those who sought to mimic the fashionable young lord would be quick to gather there as well.

“I know of a little place, the Stag and Star, down on the third circle. Mardi’s husband recently passed on, and she’s finding running the tavern alone a bit too much. Not a fancy neighborhood, but a lively one; this sounds like something she’d enjoy. I’ll talk to her. What else should I do?”

“Take these.” He tucked the little bag into the pocket of my apron. “Start serving it to the Lord Steward, and then, perhaps, at some small dinners. A few lords, some merchants; and their sons, of course. Dandies of the city, like me.” He grinned, his white teeth gleaming wickedly. “We want word of it to get around. First, we’ll create the desire, and then” – he snapped his fingers – “we will fulfill it. We’ll make gahwa the most popular drink in the world, and our little tavern will be famed for ages to come.”

A birthday ficlet for Cocoajava, November 2005

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