Story for the day: Llangollyn Blue
Cheese is a popular dessert in Livanon, where the more spoiled and stenchful the brand the better. It is said that the delights of a horrendous cheese can only be appreciated by those who understand it. Those people are not Damson.
“Very well. Rannig, the dessert, if you please. I am monstrous anxious for it—and before you can ask me again, sir knight, as I know you are keen to do—“ Here was a glance at Damson, who wasjust closing his mouth and pretending as though he had not meant to say anything at all, “—I make it my business never to discuss business at table. It hinders digestion, which is unpardonable. We do wrong by such a meal if we do not have a dessert to help things along. Come, Rannig, remove the lid. It is something exquisite. The look in your eye betrays it to me.”
“I got a few things,” Rannig coyly admitted.
“Come, bring the plate and let us wait no more. You see the knight is still shameful famished. He is staring at the rest of his biscuit as though it were the only thing left in the world.”
Damson turned his biscuit over in his hand and exhaled, fearing they should never get to talk of Her Ladyship, of returning to Marridon, or of their joining him to depose the king, and he let out a drawn out sigh and ate the rest of his biscuit, slottering with all the sulleness that a hopeless heart could promise.
“Close your mouth when you eat, sir knight,” the old man demanded. “You leave us to see everything that is going on when that is meant for a private audience.”
“You got crumbs all over yer mouth, Bartleby,” Rannig reminded him.
The giant reached out to brush them from the old man’s lips, and Bartleby flailed wildly about.
“You would do well to save your attacks for your gulls, my little raisin,” Danaco laughed. “They will invade again once they have found out you have a great many crumbs in your stores.”
Bartleby grumbled something about being the commander of a great many forks and in possession of no ill manners at table, as they were all soundly beaten out of him when he was in school, and Rannig presented the dessert. The silver trey was offered, a flourish saw the lid removed, and sitting on the dessert trey was a lump of cheese, dotted over with blue flecks of mould.
“Llangolyn blue,” the captain exclaimed, in an ecstasy. “By Myrellenos, Rannig! What a treat. How you do spoil us so. Have you been saving this since last we were in Llangolyn?”
“It certainly looks that way,” Bartleby snurled.
Damson leaned torward the trey and gave a chary sniff. “It looks to be a cheese, sir?”
“It is, sir knight. Only the finest cheese in all of northern Marridon.”
“And cheese is meant for dessert, sir?”
“In the Livanese sense, it is, but many in Marridon have cheese and some fruit after the meal to sooth the palate. Here, you must do the honours that we might disvirign you.”
The captain offered him a knife, but the knight recoiled and stared at the lump of cheese in mild trepidation.
“But,” Damson hesitated, “it is blue, sir. Has not it gone off, sir?”
“Off, sir knight? My dear, dear Damson. It has not gone off or gone anywhere. Do not you know about cultures?”
“I…I know about my own, sir, and about those I learned of in the academy.”
“Bacterial cultures, sir knight,” the old man rasped. “Fermentation and preservation and so on. Yogurt, cheese, curds, sir knight, that sort of culture.”
Damson coloured and seemed embarrassed. “Well, I know fermentations, sir.”
“Did you learn nothing in your natural science classes, sir knight? Lactobacillius and penecillium and so forth—oh, nevermind, nevermind! The blue in the cheese is edible and altogether wholesome.”
Rannig held the trey closer to the knight, and Damson leaned back, moving slightly away.
“…Are you certain, sir? Only I should be afraid of anything that smells so--” he was going to say repugnant, “—sharp, sir.”
“It only smells like Gubbins, and you see what a flobbage he was. Come, now, sir knight, you are being ungenerous by the cheese. It has traveled far and waited long to be appreciated, and here you are disparaging it.”
“I am sorry, sir,” said Damson, addressing the captain and then the cheese. “It does look to be a handsome wedge. If it is so rare, sir, is it not a shame to cut it?”
The captain quirked a brow. “You are trying to get around cutting it, but I see what you are at. It will not hurt you to have a slice, Damson, I shall answer for it. We will all indulge, and no one will die, as you will see presently. Cut the slices, sir knight.”
It was said with ssuch pointed attention, with a such a penetration look, that Damson took up the knife and prepared himself for what must be. The captain would not be denied, his palate would be satsfied, and Damson submitted to his wish, cutting into the mouldy lump with an anxious spirit. The first slice slumped over, the feff of festering feet wafted up, and Damson wrenched in agony. His eyes watered, an enecating fetor rose and expatiated, and Damson shuddered, the natkin of rotting flesh beseging his senses.
“You will forgive me, sir,” said Damson, wiping his tears, “but, if I may say--It does smell like—“ he checked himself when he caught the captain’s look, “--like old socks, sir.”
“No worse than Bartleby when he is in want of an airing,” the captain declaired. “A cheese that does not rerive the dead does nothing. The smell means little where the taste is conserned. The more pungent the scent, the better the taste, as a general rule. You have eaten no doubt numerous cheeses that have a mould rind? Here it is the same, only the mould is throughout.”
“Bleeeeehhh,” Paudrig moaned, his tongue hanging out. “Bruthur Ciran, how come they’re eatin’ cheese with mould on it an’ o’?”
“Well, Paudrig-lad,” said Brother Ciran, smiling, “’Tis no’ so disgutin’ as it seems. Ye’ve eaten cheese liek tha’ before.”
Paudrig looked offended. “No, Ah havenae.”
“Aye, yeh have.”
“Ah never eaten no cheese with no mould onnit before.”
“Oh, no, lad?”
“No. Ah never even licked stupid Dimeadh and smellae Fionntra.”
Ciran laughed and shook his head. “Their no’ cheeses, lad, nor are thae mouldae.”
“Aye, Dimeadh’s mouldae,” Paudrig contended. “His neck smells liek an auld cow shed.”
“’Mon, nou, Paudrig-lad. Tis no’ right tae sae tha’. Dimeadh’s clean an’ he’s no a cheese. Ah washed hem mahsel’. Hou dae yeh thenk cheese is maed?”
Gaumhin grew nervous. “Might no’ want tae tell hem,” he whispered in Ciran’s ear. “He might never eat it again.”
The child pouted and folded his arms. “The cheese Ah ate’s no’ moldae,” he humphed.
“Might no’ be made with tha’ blue mould,” said Ciran, “but cheese is milk gone aff, and then cultured and coagulaeted. Some salt is added, and after the moisture is pulled out tae yit, yeh got yersel’ a ripe aul’ cheese, no different than what yer growin’ behind yer ears when yeh doant wash behind ‘em.”
Paudrig furrowed his brow and looked doubtful. His caretaker’s smile recommended there being some sort of treachery here. What sort of treachery, however, Paudrig could not tell. He glanced at Gaumhin, and then back Ciran. “Naw, yer onlae saein’ tha’ tae fool meh, Bruthur Ciran,” he decided. “Ah know. Cheese is maed from milk and cream an’ o’, and little cheeses maek a big cheese.”
Ciran simpered to himself, delighting in the virtue and artlessness of a young mind, and Paudrig, feeling himself defrauded of a real explanation, turned to Gaumhin and tugged on his arm.
“Gaumhin,” he pleaded, “tell meh how cheese is maed.”
Gaumhin was caught, wanting to reinforced Ciran’s explanation without robbing Paudrig of the joy that a long and oblivious childhood could supply; he was but five years old, and if someone was to ruin his ideas of how everything in the world was accomplished, it should not be himself. Falsehoods told in the interests of peace and preservation could not be unfavourable when really called for, and with the boy’s interests at heart, Gaumhin said, in a hurried voice, “The Brouneidhs come tae taek the sour milk awae, and when thae come back, thae bring a cheese wheel with ‘em.”
“See, Bruthur Ciran?” Paudrig chimed, in triumph.“Ah teld yeh. An’ Ah doant got no cheese growin’ behind mah ears.”
“Aye, it’s a right forest back there, lad,” said Ciran, tickling the child’s ears. “Got somethin’ curdlin’ ‘tween yer toes tae.”
“No,” Paudrig sang. “Ah’m no mouldae, and it’s Brouneidhs what make cheese, no’ ears and toes an’ o’. Gaumhin said. Thae take the sour milk an’--” A sudden idea struck him, and he said, with a tapered gaze, “But how dae the Brouneidh’s maek it from sour milk?”
“Thae use rennet tae taek the curds from the whae,” was Ciran’s answer, “an’ then they tie the curds taegether and salt it till a nice rind forms.”
Paudrig peered at Ciran with severe suspicion. “Wha’ ren-net?”
Gaumhin was shaking his head, was telling Ciran not to answer, but the brother put his hand on Gaumhin’s shoulder and gave him a knowing smile.
“We oughtae tell hem, Gaumhin-lad,” said Ciran gently. “‘Tis nae use in hidin’.”
“Hidin’ what?” Paudrig demanded. “What’s nae use in hidin’?”
“Rennet is somethin’ from the inside o’ a calf’s stomach what helps the milk tae curdle.”
The revelation burst on him, and horror struck the child at his heart. That cheese should be made from something so repugnant-- he gasped and seemed affronted, and once he had ruminated and languished in all the agony of the truth, he wretched and fell into Gaumhin’s laugh, holding his hands to his throat. “Uch! Calf’s stomach an’ o’? An’ ye teld meh tae eat it? Gaumhin, Bruthur Ciran is tryin’ tae kill meh!”
“Yeh ate it before and yer no’ deid, lad,” said Ciran, in a rident hue.
Paudrig struggled with himself and made a few gagging sounds, writhing in all the anguish of denial and acceptance.
“Yer bellae-achin’ about the calf stomach,” Ciran laughed, “but yer no’ botherin’ about the mould? Yeh eat sausage. What dae yeh think that’s maed o’,lad?” but Paudrig was not listening; he was looking about for commiseration, pining over the end of his ignorance, but there was no relief here: he knew, the consciousness of which plunged him into a torrent of contrived woes, and he thrashed and groaned, suffering under the sting of verity, and called out to the only creature in the world that could quell all his qualms.
“Bear…” said he, in half whisper, reaching a hand toward the bear head above the mantelpiece, “…help meh… Bruthur Ciran maeh meh aeat stomach goop…”
“Yeh didnae eat goop, lad,” Gaumhin simpered. “Yeh ate what the rennet maed, no’ the rennet itsel’.”
Paudrig’s tounge lolled to one side of his mouth, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his chest heaved as he feigned to perish, sprawling himself across Gaumhin’s legs with a parting sigh.
“Good actin’ lad,” said Ciran, his eyes crinkling with smile lines.“If yeh thenk cheese’ll dae yeh in, wait till yeh learn what bolaig is.”
Paudrig remained impassive for a moment, and then, reviving, he righted and said, “What’s bolaig maed o? Ah know it’s no ren-net or cheese or sour milk or mould an’ o’.”
“It’s maed o’ heart, liver, and lungs, the offals of the cow and lamb.”
Paudrig hummed and looked pensive. “Are we supposed tae eat the liver an’ o’?”
“Well, it’s good for yeh, lad. Some folk doant liek cause it’s organs.”
Organs , however, were not half so bad as rennet, for Paudrig knew what they were and understood their functions as far as a five year old bordering the precipice of imagination could understand, and as he considered that all meat must have something to do with the flesh of an animal, liver was not half so repelling as a stomach sludge. He liked bolaig, enjoyed the nidorous make of it and its ability to be transformed into a sculpting apparatus, and while it did congeal when cold, which was all his horror, it was not a mysterious sludge that caused milk to sour and and children to expire.“But Ah thought bolaig is oats and meat an’ o’,” said he, after some consideration.
“Aye, it is, lad, but offal too.”
“But what’s meat if it’s no’ liver an’ lungs an’ o’?”
“When yeh eat meat, lad, yer eatin’ the muscle o’ the animal.” Ciran grabbed Paudrig’s dangling legs and gave his calf a playful press. “Liek thissun here.”
He pretended to bite into his leg, and Paudrig writhed in a fit of giggles before concluding that while muscle had its uses, it was safe as a food. “Better than mould an’ goop an’ o’.” He turned over and shouted down to the book, “Don’t eat the cheese, broken knight! It’s gonnae kill yeh!”
Perhaps if I eat it, it shall kill me, Damson thought to himself, and then no one shall save her Ladyship, but as I must gain the captain’s favour—he took a slice of the cheese into his hand, and closing his eyes and offering a prayer to whatever god or giant was listening, he opened his mouth and prepared to be plagued.