T he S poon of S kara B rae
as told by Lady Raven
My grandmother used to tell me a story when I was a little girl. We would sit in her rocking chair by the big hearth in Yew, and rock while she told it. It took place in a city I had never seen, Skara Brae, where rabbits ran about in the streets and everyone wore the colors of the forest. I don't recall the names of the characters, but there was a young chef who was the mayor of the town. It was a prosperous, peaceful place, not much happened there but the ferry ran back and forth and carried people and goods from the island shops to the mainland side, where all the richest, happiest people lived in fine houses among the trees of Spiritwood. Nobody ever argued or disagreed. They all went about humming. It was a pretty dull spot.
The chef was rather bored. Being mayor of a place where no one ever argued was not a challenging job. He had ambitions to one day leave and make his mark by catering a banquet for Lord British that would be so delicious that it would gain him fame throughout the land, and he might open a gourmet restaurant in the city of Britain, a real city, instead of this backwater place. But he didn't really have the nerve to do anything about this ambition, so mostly he just dreamed about it, and experimented with more and more delicious and beautiful and fantastically decorated dishes. He made chickens into gilded peacocks, and plain pie crusts into the images of miniature castles, and it all tasted wonderful. However, having no one he cared to share his secret ambition with, he did not show off these magnificent pieces, but merely set them outside his back door each night for whoever or whatever might come by. And of course each morning, the platter was clean. He supposed it was cats or dogs, or one of the folk who made a reasonably good living in the streets begging gold coins, the citizens of Skara Brae being such a generous and noble lot.
One morning a messenger arrived on the ferry and came to the mayor. Lord British planned to make a tour of his lands, and as he passed through Skara Brae, he intended to stop for dinner.
The chef was wild with excitement. He called the citizens together and announced that they would have a royal visitor. And of course everyone agreed that they would serve him no mere dinner, but a banquet fit for the lord of the land. The chef began to list all of the wonderful delicious things he would make, and everyone cheered him on. But he quickly realized that he couldn't make all the dishes at once--he had been making just one at a time by himself--he would need a lot of help. And the citizens of Skara Brae immediately volunteered their time and equipment and vegetables and flour and everything that would be needed. Some would work on the soups, and some on the main courses, and some on the desserts.
So they all set to work on their plans. The chef handed out a list of the things they would make, and directions. And it was then, for the first time ever, that an argument broke out in Skara Brae. The chef had planned to make a pie to look like a castle, but the dessert committee thought it would be more appropriate to make a pie that looked like the trees of SpiritWood. So the chef said, that was a good idea. Then someone said, no, wait, let's make a pie that looks like that ettin we killed last week on the borders, to show how brave we are. And everyone said that was a good idea, but the person who wanted to make a pie that looked like the trees of SpiritWood said no, they really loved their own idea, and they would just make their own pie. In a matter of minutes, every citizen was thinking up just exactly the right dish, and telling others what was wrong with their dishes, and since the desserts were the most interesting, and the soups the least interesting, all the soup committee decided that they would make desserts instead.
On top of that, there were not enough utensils to go around. If the soup committee had stuck to soup, there might have been, but instead they insisted on making decorated pies, and so there were not enough pie tins and too many spoons. Struggles broke out, accusations flew. The main course committee claimed the dessert committee was hoarding precious gilt that should have been used on the chicken, but was being applied to the pies instead. And then of course the ovens! There was such a demand for oven-time that actual attacks took place, and guards were called.
The chef went to bed that night in despair. It was clear that they would never have a proper banquet made in time. Half the pies were burned, and the others only partially cooked, from being pulled out of the oven by competing committees. And since he had been so busy all day with the banquet plans, he hadn't made anything himself. At his back door he could hear a cat yowling all night, complaining that there was no dinner left on the stoop.
In the morning, out of habit, he looked wearily out the back door to pick up his platter. There was no platter there of course, because he hadn't left anything out. But there was a spoon lying on the stoop, like a gift left there. He bent down to pick it up. If only it had been a pie tin, they could have used that! But it was just another spoon. It had some odd markings that he couldn't make out. He tossed it in a drawer, just as he heard a knock on his front door. It was the main dish committee, who wanted to file an assault charge against the dessert committee, on account of one of the main dishes had been deliberately and maliciously pulled out of an oven and hurled to the ground.
The chef threw up his hands. He dreaded Lord British's arrival now. And he was right, because by the time the lord arrived, crossing on the ferry in state, with a full retinue of court followers, ready to sit down to a fine dinner in Skara Brae, there was nothing fit to eat in the whole town. It was either burned or raw or ruined.
"Just some soup, perhaps," Lord British said politely, since he had not been expecting anything very sophisticated from a town like Skara Brae anyway.
The chef looked at the citizens. They all looked about themselves and at one another. All the soup ingredients had been used up in the ruined pies. "We made no soup, my lord," the chef said miserably.
Lord British frowned. He was extremely hungry after traveling all day. "Have you nothing to eat here?"
"Nothing, my lord," the chef replied. "I beg your pardon, my lord."
"Indeed." Lord British, being hungry, was not in his best mood. "If that is the case, we shall take the ferry back to the mainland and search out something for ourselves. And since this town cannot bestir itself even to the simple hospitality of making soup for a visitor, then the crown can no longer bestir itself to run a ferry on the town's behalf. As soon as we disembark on the mainland side, the ferry will be decommissioned."
There was a murmur of dismay. But once he had made a decision, Lord British was not one to back down from it. He ordered his court to leave on the ferry, and when it touched the mainland dock, a sign was put up saying that the Skara Brae Ferry was no longer in service, and the ferry boat was set adrift, to float on the tide down the channel and away into the open sea.
The chef went gloomily back to his own house. His one chance at his dreams was shattered. And now Skara Brae hadn't even a ferry. They could not run one of their own, because only with Lord British's patent could they raise the funds for such a project.
The days and months and years after this disaster were dark for Skara Brae. With no ferry, the wealthy, happy people on the mainland side found themselves pressed upon by the depths of SpiritWood. They were no longer happy, and they argued about everything. One by one, they left their fine homes and moved away. Some went to the island, and some to other cities. The mainland side of Skara was left to the archers who hunted there, having no need of a ferry, and a few shabby residents who couldn't afford to move. The beautiful houses fell down. Weeds grew. One or two farmers stayed on, growing crops and rowing them across to the island to sell. Some butchers bought game from the archers and then did their bloody work in tents. On the island, the town grew isolated and bitter, turning in upon itself.
The chef no longer made fine dishes to set upon his back step. The cats had given up yowling there at night. He spent most of his time refereeing fights, when he wasn't bickering with someone himself about whose fault the Great Banquet Disaster had really been. Things weren't so dull as before, but they were far more unpleasant.
He was sitting unhappily one night at his table, mechanically polishing the cooking utensils that he didn't use anymore, and setting them side by side before him. As if he would ever need them again for anything but his own dinner!
The strange spoon caught his eye. It had a little color to it that seemed different from a simple pewter. He rubbed his finger across the odd symbols on the handle.
He smiled a little as he remembered a recipe for a simple soup that his father had taught him. It had few ingredients, only a good stock and some of Skara Brae's fresh vegetables and a little spice. He had not made such a plain dish in a long time. Yet he remembered as a boy, when he came in from playing and sat down to a steaming bowl, it had been the most delicious thing he had ever tasted, and everyone around the table had talked and laughed--and later days, when his friends had gathered after a hard day's work, and told stories of encounters with direwolves and great harts with antlers the like of treetops. Slowly he got up, and began to gather the ingredients, filled with a desire to taste it again.
He used the odd spoon to stir. While the pot was still on the fire, the chef called over to his neighbor, with whom he had just been arguing that morning, and asked him to come and have a bowl. The neighbor looked grumpy, and surprised, and mumbled a few words about stubborn, silly, overbearing mayors, but after a moment he nodded, and came. He took a stir of the pot with the odd spoon, and helped himself.
"By the Hawk!" the neighbor exclaimed. "That is fine soup! It tastes just like the chowder my mother used to make!"
"It's got no seafood in it," the chef objected.
"Nay, I don't believe you!" The neighbor clapped the chef on the back. "It's brimming with fresh clams! It's wonderful!"
The chef started to argue that there were NO clams in his soup. But he hesitated. Then he just smiled and nodded. It was so pleasant not to be fighting. "Well, I'm glad you like it."
"You've a full pot here!" the neighbor said. "Let's call my brother, he'll love to have this again after so many years! And the tailor! He's a man for a good chowder."
Soon enough, the chef's house was full of people, so many that they had to carry the pot of soup outside. More gathered, each taking a stir with the spoon and helping themselves to a bowl. There seemed to be enough for everyone, and the pot stayed steaming hot even off the fire. One person said it tasted like fresh tomatoes from their garden, and another that it tasted like a wonderful exotic curry they had eaten once at a wedding in Nujel'm. The chef just bit his lip and smiled.
Someone far back in the crowd laughed and said, "We should send a pot of this to Lord British!"
And so they did.
The chef, who was no fool, made sure that when the procession from Skara Brae proudly presented Lord British with a pot of simple soup in his banquet hall in Britain, that the odd spoon was in the bowl that served him. Lord British, who had been having a very trying day, and wished now that he could just sit in his own chamber and have some bread and cheese instead of dealing with more of these complaining subjects of his, took a sip. He moved his tongue about his mouth. "Why, it's ambrosia!" he said, startled. "Indeed, I've never tasted better!"
"We wished to bring it to you, my lord," the chef said. "In apology for our lack of hospitality when you visited Skara Brae before."
Lord British nodded. "I remember that! I've never gone away so hungry in my life!" His face grew more cheerful. He laughed. "And so angry that I stopped your ferry, didn't I? A cruel trick. I'm sure it's done no good for the town, has it?" He gestured to a man in dark robes standing near. "Instruct the court mages to provide Skara Brae with a moongate. It's far more efficient. And that way they can send me some of this fine soup more quickly than by ferry! I could eat this every night!"
And so Skara was added to the ring of moongates in the land. The moongate was placed away from the docks, in order to prevent traffic jams. No one really thought about the mainland side, or missed the ferry, since it was a long walk to anywhere from the old ferry landing.
The chef took the spoon back, and it was placed in a special chest, and brought out for each meeting of the citizens, along with a pot of soup. And there were arguments, indeed, but none of them bitter, and none that couldn't be mended or worked out in some way or another, as long as the Spoon of Skara Brae was in the pot.
The chef also began to make his special dishes again, and set them on the back step. But he never told anyone about that, except his little daughter one day many years later, and she told her son, and so on, until now I am telling you.
I don't think the
meetings in Skara have a spoon anymore, so I suppose somewhere along the
way it has been lost. Or perhaps it was just a tale all along. Anyway,
that is where the old saying comes from, that you say when you mean well
by those you are with, even though you might have differences, "We'll
stir this soup together, I swear by the Spoon of Skara Brae!"