Michael and I are absolutely delighted to welcome talented author Jim Webster to Robbies Inspiration today. Jim has provided a wonderful story about a delicious fruit cake for the blog and I can tell you that it is a real treat.
The Bogat Street Gates
The surname, Gates, is not an uncommon one in Port Naain; everybody will know at least three families with this surname. Hence it is a commonly practiced expedient to attach the location of the family home to the name, so you can tell the various families apart.
So the heroes of our story are the Bogat Street Gates, because they dwell, obviously enough, in Bogat Street. This is one of those small streets which the inhabitants like to think form part of the Merchant Quarter, but which the city fathers petulantly include in Ropewalk.
Mrs Telmia Gates was never a patron of mine, but when she was single she was the cook for a patron of mine, Harl Bronnen. At some point in her career she was swept off her feet by the young man who was to make her Mrs Gates. She continued working but with her first child on the way she tendered her resignation.
Madam Bronnen is a lady who runs a happy house. She went down to the kitchen and sat down with her cook and a cup of tea. The upshot of it was that the young Telmia agreed to remain for a couple of weeks to train her successor in how the family liked things. Then once the baby had been born she would come in to provide cover on the new cook’s day off, and also to help with the catering when Madam was organising a soiree or similar.
This agreement proved entirely satisfactory to both ladies, and if Mister Gates was working, Telmia would take her children to work with her. There they would be spoiled rotten by the other staff and even Madam Bronnen would indulge them with grandmotherly affection.
So for Telmia life was running along perfectly happily. She had a loving husband whom she called ‘Gates’ and who addressed her as ‘My Dear’ even when in company. She had three delightful children, and money, if tight, was not tight enough to be a constant worry.
Now Gates had been a clerk working for a usurer, but not long after he married he had the opportunity to set up as an independent accountant. He built up a loyal client base, and dealt with everyone from peddlers and shopkeepers to a petty mage. The latter was one of Gates’ more interesting clients. When Gates took him on and saw his records for the first time, all income and all expenditure went down under one heading, ‘Miscellaneous.’
It was Gates who taught him the magic of itemised accounts, followed the next year by the deeper wisdom of ‘accruals’, ‘contras’, ‘creditors’ and ‘debtors’. After three years it was the petty mage who regarded his accountant as the magician, and spoke of him favourably to his colleagues. This led to more work and other accountants occasionally referred to Gates’ client base as ‘the magic circle’. It all made for security and modest prosperity.
Still there was one dark cloud in the life of Telmia Gates. Her grandmother of revered memory had also been a cook. It was she who had taught and encouraged Telmia as a girl, and so supportive of her granddaughter was she that she gave the girl her fruit cake recipe. Now this secret recipe the old lady never shared with anybody else, even though people had offered her cash for it.
There is good reason for this; the old lady’s fruit cake was widely agreed to be the finest anybody had ever tasted. The combination of fruit and spice, the fact it was perfectly moist but not heavy; no other cake could match it. The old lady was widely agreed to have achieved the ultimate mastery.
Whilst everybody agreed that Telmia’s fruitcake was as good as anything her grandmother had made, Telmia wasn’t convinced. She felt there was something missing, some small detail that she was overlooking. She was sure that if she could only get that right, she would, to her own satisfaction, match her grandmother.
Now most husbands would tend to dismiss her quest for perfection, but Gates was an accountant, and he understood the sanctity of getting everything just so. Therefore he supported her. Indeed it might have been him that put her on the right track. One night as they lay in bed on the edge of sleep he suddenly asked, “Is the plum brandy good enough?”
He then fell asleep, whilst Talmia was instantly awake and worrying. Once the cake had been made, she had been taught to feed it with Urlan plum brandy. Now it must be confessed that in Port Naain that term is used to describe a lot of liquor which hasn’t seen real plums never mind a real Urlan. Perhaps, she asked herself, this is the missing ingredient.
So next day, after Gates had gone to work and the children were with Dame Mugwart being exposed to the principles of literacy and numeracy, Talmia sprang into action. She had heard in passing conversation that there was an Urlan who served Lord Cartin. So without thought as to what this might involve her in, she decided to go and find this Urlan. Do not think she went unprepared; she took with her a fruit cake.
Her journey took her virtually from one end of the city to the other, but she had sensible shoes. She also took advantage of the trolley-way, an unusual expense in her case but one she felt justified in on this one occasion. Once in Dilbrook she asked a passing man-at-arms for directions on the not unreasonable assumption that he would know. He did and once he discovered she wished to speak to an Urlan, he not merely directed her, but escorted her in person. He knew that there was a legend in the making and he was not going to miss the confrontation between Taldor Vectkin, swordsman and warrior, and this rather short lady in a respectable dress and sensible shoes. Indeed he swept her past the guards and took her onto the training ground where Taldor Vectkin was training with a couple of the younger fighters.
When informed that a lady wished to speak to him, Taldor immediately and courteously halted the bout and made his way across to see why he was wanted. Faced with a warrior who was a good head taller than her, casually carrying a naked blade, his mail festooned with fetishes and charms, Talmia merely explained that she was trying to produce the perfect fruitcake and was worried that she was using inferior plum brandy.
I have had some exposure to the Urlan over the years and I have come to realise that whilst they might be superbly trained killers, they are rather more. They have a strong sense of honour, but even more they have a strong sense that a person should test themselves and should strive always to be the best that they can be. So to Taldor Vectkin, the fact that this middle aged lady in her sensible shoes was trying to create the perfect fruitcake was not at all unreasonable.
Then she unwrapped the cake she was carrying, so he could test her mettle for himself. He summoned a score of horsemen who were trying to simultaneously look busy and to discover what Taldor was up to. With his own fighting knife he cut slices from the cake and shared it round. Then in total silence a score of some of the most dangerous men in Port Naain chewed, masticated and savoured the fruit cake of Talmia Gates.
Taldor finished his piece and turned to the other judges. “Well.”
“She can cook me fruitcake any time she wants.”
“Finest I’ve tasted,”
“I’ve offered to marry a lady for less.”
The praise poured in. Taldor turned back to Talmia. She stood, arms folded, glaring at the impromptu judging panel. “Yes it’s good; I’ll admit it’s good. But it can be better, my grandmother did better and so will I.”
Taldor bent slightly so he was not looking down on her. “I have an elderly kinsman who makes what is considered to be the best plum brandy in the Elkin lands; which probably makes it the best plum brandy east of the Aphices Mountains. I’ll get word to him and he’ll send some of his best year. Then you can see if that fixes your problem.”
She curtseyed to him and turned to go.
“Where is it you live?” Taldor asked.
“Bogat Street.” She paused and added proudly, “In the Merchant Quarter.” Then honesty got the better of her, “The Ropewalk end.”
Taldor shouted across one of the horsemen and lifted her up to sit in front of him on his destrier.
Thus it was that Gates and the three children arrived home just in time to see a somewhat dishevelled Talmia being handed down off the horse by a man-at-arms in the livery of Lord Cartin.
Lesser men might have asked questions, but Gates merely thanked the horseman and ushered his family inside.
From Port Naain, through Partann, over the Slash and across the rolling grasslands of the Eklin country must be close to two thousand miles, and any courier has to make the journey back as well. So when there was a hammering on the front door early one evening, Talmia was surprised to see Taldor Vectkin standing there. She was even more surprised when he presented her with a full case of plum brandy.
Still she thanked him politely and that very evening set to work to bake a cake. But it was three months later when she appeared once more at the Cartin mansion asking for Taldor Vectkin. This time she produced a nicely aged cake made with his kinsman’s plum brandy. Again judges were summoned and included Andreal who was doing some portrait work for Lord Cartin, and my good self who was also present in a professional capacity. The cake was tasted and frankly none of us could imagine how it could be improved. Even Talmia pronounced herself satisfied.
Then, somewhat diffidently, she asked Taldor how much she owed his kinsman for the case of plum brandy. She had surreptitiously slipped into some of the city’s more expensive purveyors of wines and spirits and tried to discover the cost of a case of Urlan plum brandy. The price had taken to haunting her dreams.
Taldor merely smiled at her. “The old rogue merely said that if the cake was as good as everybody says then he’ll consider himself fully repaid if she sends him one of her fruit cakes.”
So that is how Andreal came to paint the cake with a decanter of plum brandy close at hand.
Yet the story doesn’t entirely end there. I know for a fact that every year a wandering Urlan knight will drop off a case of plum brandy. In return he is always given two cakes, one for the maker of the brandy, and one for himself, “As a little something for your trouble.”
Thus around lonely campfires all across the eastern wilderness, hard men will raise a tankard to the health of Talmia Gates and praise her as the one true maker of fruitcake.
And as she sits down with Gates and the children and sips a pleasant infusion and eats a piece of fruitcake, Talmia is almost content. She knows now she has bettered her grandmother, but perhaps, she muses to herself, there is still some way in which she can improve it?
Thank you, Jim, for this wonderful story. I think I need to try this plum brandy when I bake my Christmas cakes.
A fabulous new book
Tallis Steelyard and Jim Webster proudly present
Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In here Tallis touches upon child rearing, politics as a performance art, the joy of dance and the advantages that come with good manners. Discover why Madam Dolbart was forced to constantly hire new cooks, marvel at the downfall of Dash Blont, lecher, libertine, and philanderer . Whatever happens, do not pass through life without knowing of the advantages to be gained by an early morning pick-me-up of horse dung spread fine on toast. You too can be charming and elegant once you know how.
For a mere 99p all this and more can be yours.
About Jim Webster
Jim Webster is probably fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing SF and fantasy novels.
He lives in South Cumbria.
He has even been cozened into writing a blog, available for perusal by the discerning (or indeed by the less than discerning) at http://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/
Other books by Jim Webster
These are three of many more delightful stories by Jim Webster. Do pop over to his amazon author page and see all his titles: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
I hope you enjoyed the story. Have a lovely Sunday.