It was morning and Diras Castle had just received its consignment of goods for the kitchen master to claim. Meats and salts came from Tyfirrem to the northwest, and milks and cheeses from the farms of Diras Greater. As the herald could not be bothered to speak to the farmers to accept and pay for the goods, and Martje was too well employed at the moment with fixing the king’s breakfast, it fell upon the commander to accept the delivery. She did so with great eagerness. She enjoyed the honest and hardy conversation of Frewyn’s farmers, having been one for a time, and there was always cheerfulness in their news and pleasantry in their accent. Their smiles and animated manners made them all the more enjoyable and for as long as the farmers could spare, the commander was overjoyed to be entertained by them.
She made certain they were compensated for their service and she sent the shipment to the kitchen when the farmers were well on their way. One of the yeoman asked if she could look over the consignment to make certain everything was delivered in the correct manner and having little to do at such an early hour, the commander agreed such a task, recalling the days of when she was made to do so for her father. She walked from the main hall to the kitchen where all the items were being carefully unpacked. The milk, eggs, butter, meats and spices were all accounted for and placed into the larder. The cheeses, however, arrived in a disordered manner as they had been piled into their boxes with worry that the shipment would be late and it was left to the commander to arrange them. She sighed and took the consignment list from the side of the delivery. She did well to mark and classify each cheese and place those of similar type in the larder but her work was halted when from among the assortment, she found a veritable treasure she had never before seen in the keep.
A hard, smoked cheese coated in mahogany wax and sealed with the insignia of Tyfirrem came into her reach. She remarked it with great curiosity as she recalled having such a delight in the farmstead assemblies when she was younger. She looked around for any prying eyes and found none about in the kitchen at present. When she was certain of her secrecy, she found a suitable knife from one of the drawers and sat at the table to enjoy her extraordinary treat. She cut away the first layer of wax and the smell of hickory wafted from where she had sliced. Her eyes rolled up in immense enjoyment for such a fragrance. Her knife plunged into the center of the wheel and she cut for herself a generous corner of the hard cheese. She hummed, observing the baked golden colour of it, and when prepared she bit into it with great satisfaction.
The smoked flavour melded with the sweetness of cream delighted and astounded her. She was forced to close her eyes and lean back in her chair, being regaled with the memory of such an unparalleled taste. While chewing slowly, she took in every hint of seasoning, relishing each luscious bite. She was only awoken from her gratification by the sound of a familiar tail hitting the floor. She opened her eyes to find Obhantaa’s hangaara cat sitting beside her. Its large paw was extended in entreaty and its black eyes were wide with a glistening look.
The commander looked at the cheese in her hand and sighed. “I suppose you should like to try this,” she said, raising her brows to the cat. “Very well. I know there is no cheese in Sanhedhran therefore you may have some. And, if you must have any, then it should be the best. And this one most certainly is the best.”
She cut a small slice and waited for the cat to taste it to offer more. The hangaara lapped it from the ground and immediately demanded a second and larger piece by shifting closer to the commander and placing its front paws on her leg while standing on its hind haunches and inviting the woman to place some of the enticing fare her opened mouth.
The commander simpered and obliged the large cat. “As if Leraa doesn’t feed you,” she teased. “This is the last. You shall receive no more. Unghaahi would remonstrate if he knew I was giving you something thought to be so full of fat.” She smiled as the cat finished its sliced and begged for more. “One more. One,” she said firmly. “There. You have done. Now, go play in the training yard and leave me to my cheese.”
The cat would not move. It blinked and licked its lips, eyeing the cheese in the commander’s hand. It made a dash for it and attempted to snatch it from the commander’s hand but the woman was quick and held her knife toward the hangaara in warning.
“I know this game,” she smirked. “I had many animals on a farm to dodge. You are not the first-“ but before the commander could finish her contention, she heard a flutter of wings come from the kitchen window. She turned and saw the Den Asaan’s gull sitting on the sill. It started at her with its unblinking eye, the prize of the cheese gleaming in its reflection. “No,” she said with a shake of her head. “This is why I never give animals what’s on my plate. Once one of you comes, you subliminally alert the others and call them to you. Here.” She tossed a crumb of cheese from the table toward the bird and it instantly went to fetch it. “And now, I shall put this away before any other creatures come from the walls to assail me.”
The commander stood only to have any further movement impeded by the small meows of the stray cats Obhantaa had been collecting and feeding emanating from the yard. They sat at the window leading to the kitchen, yowling to share in some of the bounty. She scoffed, cut two pieces and tossed them at the cats, leaving them to fight over who would receive the largest portion. She turned to the larder to see two more cats at her feet. She huffed at the ridiculousness of the circumstance and refused to give anymore until the cats cried for her to split some cheese for them as well. Their large eyes beseeched her and the woman surrendered, tossing them a few crumbs to quiet their meowing mouths.
She placed the cheese on the highest shelf in the storeroom and walked back toward the kitchen to find the hangaara, the gull, and all of the strays lined at the entrance. She exhaled in exasperation, leaning her back against the storeroom door. “I think I’ll have a word with Leraa on the subject of training,” she murmured to herself, gazing at the voracious animals. “I’m certain my mate should like to share in such a conversation.”
The commander weaved her way through the collection of cats and passed a precarious glance at the gull, telling him that if he should decided to misbehave and find his way into the kitchen again, the Den Asaan would hear of it and retaliate accordingly. The gull cried and waddled back toward its nest in the yard, secretly forming a scheme to rescue the cheese, of which he had been given one delectable and memorable morsel.